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(The Center Square) – The Indiana State Teachers Association want lawmakers to address the state’s need for teachers by increasing pay and improving working conditions in the coming legislative session.

The 168-year-old organization announced its legislative priorities in a statement, citing a decade of inadequate education funding and efforts to de-professionalize education as the cause of “historic teacher shortages across the state.” 

The Indiana Department of Education Job Bank currently shows 1,545 open positions for teachers and more than 700 in student support positions such as counselor, coach or instructional assistant. 

Indiana ranks 41st in average teacher pay at $53,072 based on NEA data from 1,200 schools, according to District Administration. 

ISTA’s recommendations for addressing the problem include increasing funding for public schools, granting collective bargaining rights to educational support professionals, exempting student-debt relief from state income taxation and increasing scholarships for students pursuing an education degree. 

Just 16% of education majors in Indiana in 2010-12 wound up teaching public school in Indiana according to ISTA, while 54% of education majors who received scholarships or stipends in Indiana during 2011-16 later taught in Indiana public schools. 

ISTA also recommends funding 12 weeks’ parental leave for public school employees, developing and funding free public preschool within three years and continuing to allow educators to make curriculum decisions.

The Institute of Education Sciences in 2021 also recommended Indiana’s state and education leaders attempt to “stop leaks in the teacher pipeline,” suggesting strategies to increase diversity in the teacher pipeline and recommending more support for low-income students pursuing education degrees.

The recommendations come after a year of significant effort in teacher recruitment and retention by the state. 

Beginning with this academic year, a new Indiana law allows K-12 schools to hire full- or part-time adjunct teachers. Adjunct teachers must have at least four years of experience in the subject they want to teach and be mentored by another teacher. 

Also this year, IDOE made available $10 million in grants for teacher recruitment and retention, and another $2 million in grants for training teachers of English Language Learners. 

Fifty-percent of Indiana’s budget is directed toward education, Gov. Eric Holcomb told reporters in August. 

The Center Square requested comment from the Indiana Department of Education but did not receive a reply by press time. 

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