INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Republican Statehouse leaders say they want to increase funding for
Indiana’s embattled child welfare agency and find a way to pay teachers
more, but that money will be tight when they craft the state’s next two year
“The budget is
going to be more difficult than most people realize,” House Speaker Brian
Bosma said Wednesday during a forum previewing the upcoming session, which
begins in earnest Jan. 1. “It’s going to be a very challenging year.”
It’s hardly a
surprise that lawmakers are prioritizing a larger appropriation for the
Department of Child Services. Long-festering problems at the agency exploded
into public view last year, when its former director resigned in a letter
accusing Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb of making management changes and
service cuts that “all but ensure children will die.”
lawmakers have directed additional money to the agency to shore up its
finances, which have been stretched thin amid the state’s metastasizing
But there has been
confusion over teacher pay. The issue roiled legislatures in Kentucky, West
Virginia and other states over the last year. And Indiana Republicans want
to prevent such unrest from spreading to their state.
Holcomb has offered
a convoluted stance on the matter, suggesting last week that a “framework”
must first be developed, with an end goal of increasing teacher salaries by
However, he said
Wednesday that his stance was “mischaracterized,” though he did little to
offer clarity, vaguely calling for a “short-term” and “long-term” approach.
Bosma, on the other
hand, made clear that he will prioritize getting teachers at least some kind
of a raise this session, with more to come in the future.
Unlike some other
states, teacher pay decisions in Indiana are mostly made at the local level.
Lawmakers could still influence those decisions, though, by placing “some
parameters” on how school funding is spent, Bosma said.
“Our commitment to
teachers has to be enhanced,” Bosma said. “We’re not hitting the target on
the most important profession ... in our state’s future, which are
leadership, Indiana has amassed a $1.8 billion reserve fund. But GOP leaders
say significantly drawing that down would be fiscally irresponsible and
isn’t an option they would consider.
question whether the state faces the dire circumstances Republicans
describe. They note that DCS has had problems for more than a decade and are
partially caused by a lack of funding.
What’s more, under
a Republican sponsored plan, the state’s corporate tax rate has been cut
back in increments. Reverse part of that and the state could have more
money, Democrats contend.
“I am just am a
little bit skeptical that we don’t have the money,” said Democratic Senate
Minority Leader Tim Lanane, of Anderson.
When it comes to
teacher pay, Holcomb said last week he wanted a “methodical” plan that would
delay a significant increase until 2021.
Indiana ranked 31st
among the 50 states in teacher pay during 2016, with average salaries of
$50,715, according to the National Education Association. That’s lower than
the five nearby states that the Holcomb administration wants to compare
Indiana with - Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
this year calls for state money for a variety of tax breaks for attracting
businesses, along with modest boosts in job training and drug-abuse