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State school board association asks lawmakers to prioritize teacher retention, student support

A teacher sits in a classroom with a handful of young students in pajamas.
FILE PHOTO: Jeanie Lindsay
/
IPB News
The ISBA says there are not enough school counselors and psychologists to the number of students they serve, which only exacerbates the state's teacher shortage.

The Indiana School Board Association wants lawmakers to prioritize teacher retention and incentives for student support professionals in the upcoming legislative session.

The ISBA has a legislative committee comprised of 20 school board members from around the state. The committee began work on the association’s 2024 legislative priorities in July, and the priorities were approved unanimously at an assembly this fall.

Among other policy priorities, ISBA Executive Director Terry Spradlin said improving teacher retention and adding student support staff are at the top of the list.

“We do have a teacher pipeline issue. Some shortages exist in classrooms still today,” he said. “At this juncture of the school year, maybe school districts are using permanent substitutes or they used an alternative licensing process to place persons in the classroom. [Those people] are not necessarily highly qualified, effective teachers. So we need to do better at continuing to recruit teachers to the classroom and then retain them once they're there.”

Spradlin said many teachers leave the profession three to five years after they begin teaching. The ISBA wants lawmakers to fund retention grants after teachers have taught for three, five and 10 years. The organization is also asking lawmakers to fund teacher mentorship stipends.

Additionally, the ISBA also said lawmakers should fund student support staff like school counselors and psychologists. Spradlin said the student-counselor ratio in Indiana is currently 649 students to one counselor. The preferred ratio is 230 students to one counselor.

“We do need a comprehensive approach to teaching, learning and supporting children with the issues and needs that they bring to the classroom every day,” he said.

Some of the ISBA’s other priorities include fully funding textbooks and regulating residential housing projects that impact school funding.

READ MORE: ISTA outlines 2024 legislative priorities: strengthen collective bargaining, offset textbook costs

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Lawmakers passed legislation last year that prohibits schools from charging families for textbooks and supplies. The state set aside money, but it did not cover the full cost for many schools. Spradlin said those fees should be fully funded by the state.

Spradlin also said the ISBA wants lawmakers to better regulate housing projects funded by tax increment financing, or TIF. TIF captures increases in property taxes over a set period of time to repay bonds used by local governments for development projects. That means schools in TIF districts do not receive those tax increases while they are being used to repay bonds.

Residential TIF projects had to be approved by school corporations within the TIF district prior to last year’s legislative session. However, a new law repealed that requirement, so schools have no decision-making power over the loss of property tax increases.

"There needs to be checks and balances and equity with our tax increment financing policies so other units of government are not harmed by loss of property tax dollars,” Spradlin said.

The ISBA also wants lawmakers to repeal some regulations that mandate time between hearings on proposed superintendents and require meetings for public comment before the start of collective bargaining.

Currently, it can take up to a month for a school board to confirm a new superintendent. The ISBA is proposing that lawmakers cut down the time between steps. For example, the present law states boards must wait 10 days between posting a proposed superintendent’s contract and holding a public hearing. The ISBA wants lawmakers to change the 10-day waiting period to five days.

“If there's a vacancy with a CEO role for a school district, they really need to be empowered to act quickly to hire the best person for the job,” Spradlin said. “Once they have that person identified, get them employed and working on a daily basis to lead the daily operations of the school district. There are unnecessary delays with the current process.”

The legislative session starts in early January 2024.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

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Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.