Wolkins: State has made strides in funding education

Posted by: Jake Thompson  | Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:46 pm

Recently, Warsaw Community Education Association President Terry Sims sent out an email to all school personnel, which started with, “Just as I predicted, it has begun the legislature wasted no time spreading misinformation to the public…Our local Representative Mr. Wolkins is parroting the GOP position as well…Expect more misdirection in the future.” For years, Mr. Sims has claimed the legislature has not provided adequate funds for schools. 

During the 2018 school year, the average combined local, state and federal per student spending was $10,095 for traditional public schools. Warsaw Community School’s per student funding was about $9,800. Just last session, the state pumped more than $700 million in new funding into K-12 education and paid down a $150 million unfunded teacher pension liability to free up more money for schools. It is also important to note that more than 50 percent of our state’s budget goes to K-12 education. Nationally, only Kansas and Vermont spend a higher percent of their state funds on education. According to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board and National Education Association, Indiana’s average salary for teachers sits just above $50,000. When you factor in cost of living, it equates to $56,175, making Indiana 22nd in the nation for teacher pay.

I am concerned that the amount of money that ends up in the classroom has gone down from 61 percent a few years ago to 58 percent, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The non-partisan Indiana Policy Review did a study in August, and its research shows only 47 percent of funding makes it into the classroom. The state’s emphasis for the past two years has been to get more dollars to the classroom to help raise teacher pay. In 2018, the average 23-student classroom in Indiana received $232,188. I find it hard to believe that some school boards can only afford to pay their teachers $35,000 to $36,000. Local school boards determine teacher salaries, not the legislature. According to the Legislative Services Agency, Warsaw’s per student state funding will increase from $6,665 last school year to $6,936 in 2020-2021 (a 4.1 percent increase). 

We hope these historic increases in funding and paying down pension liabilities will free up more money for Warsaw schools to pay their teachers more. For Warsaw, this amounts to approximately $1 million in new money each of the next two years, plus an additional $350,000 to $400,000 in annual ongoing pension savings. 

Both WCEA and WCS recently announced $1,400 in annual teacher raises over the next two years. Local leadership said they were appreciative of the new state money, but were only able to grant these raises through their own cost savings and efficiencies. That says they did not need any more state money to provide salary increases, yet they still got considerable funding increases from the state. 

Furthermore, this year the WCS board showed a $15 million transfer on their 2019 Estimate of Miscellaneous Revenue Report from their Education Fund – the classroom fund – to their non-instructional Operations Fund. I am stunned the board who pushed the narrative that they are underfunded and invited Dr. Phil Downs to corroborate that two weeks ago, had what they considered a surplus in the Education Fund and asked to transfer out that much money. The final transfer will actually be about $13.5 million, but that state tuition support is supposed to be used for classroom instruction, including teacher salaries. While a $1,400 raise isn’t bad, I think the WCEA bargaining team got the short-end-of-the-stick as a lot of money was left on the table that could have been used to pay teachers more. 

Just last month, we saw many signs at the Red for Ed event simply asking for “more” to “fully fund” education. The legislature has given more every year other than in 2011 when funding had to be trimmed back due to the Great Recession. This year, the legislature invested a record amount of new money. It will take a major tax increase of either the sales tax or income tax to satisfy what demonstrators were asking for on Organization Day. While everyone jumped on the bandwagon and showed their support for public education recently, they have not shown interest in raising taxes or pressuring their local school board to prioritize classrooms.

Educators and the public have another opportunity to express their opinion as to school funding. My legislative survey went out last week, and again one of the questions asks if the amount is too little, too much or about right. Teachers who want an answer to the questions asked in the WCEA email, please indicate that in the comment section of the survey along with an email or a phone number. I would appreciate the opportunity to respond as we did not have a chance to meet at the demonstration. My survey can also be completed online at www.in.gov/h18, and I can be contacted directly at h18@iga.in.gov

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Rep. David Wolkins (R-Warsaw) represents House District 18,
which includes Wabash and portions of Kosciusko, Miami and Grant counties.

Click here to download a high-resolution photo.