A teacher pay commission has issued 300-million dollars’ worth of recommendations to pay teachers more.
The commission issued 37 recommendations, but 85-percent of the money would come from five of them. They include restricting the tax credit for College Choice 529 plans to households earning less than 150-thousand dollars a year. Former Mayflower C-E-O Michael L. Smith, who chaired the commission, says the tax-advantaged status of those accounts would continue, but says Indiana is one of just four states which gives a tax credit on top of that for contributions. He says limiting that credit would free up 50-million dollars.
Smith says implementing all the recommendations would allow Indiana to raise teachers’ pay an average of seven-thousand dollars a year. He says that would push the average salary to 60-thousand, third-highest in the Midwest.
The commission is recommending several changes to schools’ health coverage. It says spouses who have access to insurance through their own jobs should be removed from schools’ plans. And it says school districts should enroll in the state’s drug benefit plan, and consider wellness incentives and health savings accounts.
The commission says schools which haven’t asked taxpayers for more money through referenda should do it. And it calls on legislators to continue a process Governor Holcomb began last year, and pay down local pension liabilities.
Holcomb appointed the 13-member commission last summer. Smith acknowledges the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic two-thirds of the way through the panel’s work has complicated both its work and legislators’ work in considering it. He says the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic may require legislators to put off steps to raise taxes.
Indiana State Teachers Association executive director Dan Holub, who served on the commission, says the 60-thousand-dollar target is the right one, and praises the panel and Holcomb for taking the issue seriously. But Holub says many teachers’ spouses don’t have quality health plans available at their own jobs, and shouldn’t be forced off school plans. And he notes while many of the commission’s recommendations require action by school boards or through collective bargaining, it’s not possible to raise all the money without legislative action.
Holub’s not saying how legislators should make up the 50-million from the insurance proposal, but says they need to act in the upcoming session, despite the pandemic. Since tax changes typically take effect with the new year, he says any delay could push off action for several years.
Holcomb thanked the commission in a written statement, and said the recommendations provide “a base for continuing these important conversations.”