STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Protesters in West Virginia and Arizona and California have called attention to school funding. Now Indiana educators take their turn. Over the past couple of decades, the state has reported the nation's slowest increase in teacher salaries. Jeanie Lindsay of Indiana Public Broadcasting reports on teachers joining the debate over what to do.
JEANIE LINDSAY, BYLINE: Becky Stoltzfus has known since she was in eighth grade she wanted to teach. And for 24 years now, she has been at Kokomo High School in Indiana. But now she's questioning her future in the classroom.
BECKY STOLTZFUS: And it breaks my heart that I might actually have to do something different.
LINDSAY: She's frustrated by the tradeoffs she has to make, like putting off paying bills, so her son can travel with his school's band. Stoltzfus is at the top of her school's pay scale. She makes a little more than $64,000 a year. And that's well above the state average, which has hovered at about $50,000 since 2011. Nationally, Indiana ranks 35th in teacher pay. Stoltzfus is looking for a second job this summer.
STOLTZFUS: I'm hoping to either substitute teacher at the school. Or I have friends that work at J.C. Penney.
LINDSAY: Other Indiana teachers choose to move to neighboring states where average salaries are $2,000 to $10,000 more. Without more pay to offer, some districts rely on substitutes to lead classes or hire unlicensed teachers through what's called an emergency permit. The superintendent of Becky Stoltzfus's district, Jeff Hauswald, says the only long-term option is more funding from the Statehouse.
JEFF HAUSWALD: If you do a root cause analysis of why teacher salaries are low, it isn't because the school districts have misspent money. It's because the state has not adequately funded education at the appropriate level for the last decade.
LINDSAY: Lawmakers want to use part of the state's surplus to pay off some teacher pension debt. The idea is, hopefully, schools use those savings to pay their teachers more. Lawmakers also have a bill that would publicize how schools manage their money.
TODD HUSTON: Let's make it more transparent. Let's make sure communities understand where their dollars are being spent.
LINDSAY: That's one of the state's lead budget writers, Representative Todd Huston. He says the bill will keep schools accountable and give the state more data. For now, communities are making up the gaps. Indiana districts have closed more than 200 public schools since 2010. Some districts cut costs by postponing bus purchases and changing benefit plans.
Ultimately, teachers see low pay as a symptom of a devalued field. Now they want a cultural shift toward more respect with better pay because without it, the pipeline of new teachers is slim.
STOLTZFUS: There's a number of us that are getting ready to retire. And that worries me that the replacements really aren't there.
LINDSAY: And Kokomo teacher Becky Stoltzfus isn't sure if she can live out her dream of retiring from the classroom.
STOLTZFUS: And I hate the fact that I've actually started to question that.
LINDSAY: Many other Hoosier educators face the same question. Should they stay? Right now their answers depend on how lawmakers respond to their calls for more money. For NPR News, I'm Jeanie Lindsay.
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