We Need a Meaningful Increase in Education Funding
By Shelby Phelps
I moved around my classroom, smiling. My students were deep into a scavenger hunt, answering questions that led them to the next location of the subsequent question. The room was filled with sounds — groups discussing a question, loud footsteps, moving chairs to reach a clue behind a poster, and students laughing.
I love teaching this activity, and what makes the effort I had invested in it worthwhile is students like Lauren. “Thank you for giving me a sense of being,” Lauren said to me that day. “I have been feeling very down in the dumps recently and what we did today gave me a sense of accomplishment.” I told Lauren that she was smart, insightful, and brave, and that I was proud of her. Then we parted ways — Lauren to the bus to take her home and me to my second job, the local pizza shop, where I wait tables to make ends meet.
House Bill 1003 would create transparency in district-level funding by encouraging districts to meet expenditure targets and report out how many dollars are going to the operations and education funds locally. By ensuring that 85 percent of every dollar goes toward the education fund, we can set our state up to find sustainable solutions to increasing teacher pay across the board so that our main job, the one that matters the most, pays teachers as deserving professionals.
Such legislation is long overdue. Teacher compensation in Indiana has steadily declined over the last 20 years. Average Indiana pay dropped 15 percent between 2000 and 2017 and when adjusted for inflation, moved from $59,986 to $50,554. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Indiana teachers earn 17 percent less than college graduates in similar fields. And while benefits, including retirement, health insurance, and paid holidays, make up a larger share of compensation for teachers than for other workers, it’s not enough to erase the wage gap.
I have been rated “highly effective” on my past four evaluations and have recently graduated with a Master’s degree in English. I attend as many professional development opportunities as I can, and I’m consistently researching methods and content to enrich my practice. How much would this level of expertise be worth in a different field?
In my scavenger hunt lesson, I engaged students in multimodal learning. In short, if a student can interact with content using one or more learning styles, he or she employs multiple sections of the brain, which allows for a stronger retention of content. The students in the scavenger hunt were using a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles by walking throughout the classroom, working with a group, and writing down answers.
My 28 students hail from different backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, and various levels of mental health. Youth mental health is important to my practice; I’ve attended multiple professional development sessions to learn more about it, including Youth Mental Health First Aid training. I‘m able to recognize symptoms and behaviors so that I can refer students for the professional help they need, including Lauren and other students in my classroom. Like many other teachers in Indiana, I approach my job with the ultimate professionalism because it involves the support and care of our children.
A professional’s wage is determined by the job’s overall value to achieving the goals of the organization and the value the individual brings based on their skills, training, and experience. In order to become a teacher in Indiana, incoming candidates must acquire a Bachelor’s degree, pass exams that measure the academic skills and subject-specific content knowledge needed for teaching, and obtain licensure from the Indiana Department of Education. Once in the classroom, teachers like myself must be lifelong learners and persist in improving their methods. Yet, Indiana teacher compensation pales in comparison to those in similarly-accomplished and licensed fields.
Indiana needs to implement a meaningful increase in funding for teacher compensation to become comparable with other professions. Teaching must once again be made comparable with other professions so we can attract talented young people into the field and keep highly-effective educators from leaving the classroom. Students like Lauren deserve nothing less.
Shelby Phelps teaches AP Language and Composition, English 11, and Student Publications at Central High School in Evansville. She is a 2018–19 Teach Plus Indiana Teaching Policy Fellow.