OPINION: Legislature should support education funding proposal

Jan. 25—Gov. Eric Holcomb's call for a record $1.2 billion increase for education funding over the next two years comes at a critical time for Hoosier schools.

About 95% of Indiana school superintendents responding to a recent survey by Equitable Education Solutions said they were dealing with a shortage of qualified teaching candidates.

"It is obvious we are not really solving the problem of the teacher shortage," Terry McDaniel, Indiana State University professor emeritus of education, told the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute.

Holcomb supports raising the average Hoosier teacher salary from $56,600 to $60,000 annually. While teaching is a calling and not a career defined simply by pay, our educators deserve a respectable wage. If school systems can't attract and retain qualified teachers, students suffer.

The governor's ambitious plan directly targets other areas that need improvement, such as early literacy. Holcomb is calling for millions of dollars in additional investment in childhood reading programs and expanding the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Testing has shown significant drop-offs in reading proficiency, and that's not a problem that can be solved without direct action.

Holcomb is also seeking to expand access to early education, an idea supported by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

The governor's plan is drawing bipartisan support, but will Indiana's Republican supermajority approve it for the biennial budget? They certainly should.

Indiana can afford it. The state has enjoyed budget surpluses, and while giving Hoosiers some tax relief is good, investing in Indiana's future should be the top priority.

Indiana needs this investment. Study after study has found that a qualified workforce is one of the biggest obstacles for the state's economic future. Indiana can turn the tide in part by adequately funding schools, from proven programs that develop young minds to paying educators a better salary.

Indiana should support schools.

The pandemic and culture wars have put schools directly in the sights of politicians and parents, but most educators aren't consumed by such topics. They just want to teach children and improve our future. If we can't support that, then what does that say about us?

It's time for Indiana to take a major step forward and begin leading in education. Students can't be expected to keep up with their peers in other states without a better strategy. Holcomb's proposal is a giant step in the right direction.