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TERRE HAUTE — Gov. Eric Holcomb plans to support further study of teacher salary increases, elimination of unfunded mandates placed among Indiana educators and legislation to hold Indiana teachers harmless for the effects of the state's new ILEARN in the coming legislative session.

The Indiana governor detailed his full 2020 Next Level Agenda in a lunch Tuesday with the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.

Among other priorities, Holcomb outlined goals to continue building a skilled workforce while addressing frustrations voiced by teachers in a recent series of statewide Red for Ed public education rallies.

"As I travel the state, I hear people concerned about rising health care costs, the increase in youth vaping and our education system," Holcomb said in a prepared statement. "My goal is to listen to their concerns and find solutions to build a bolder, brighter future."

Holcomb's agenda calls for continued support of the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission, charged by the governor to explore long-term solutions for providing teacher pay more competitive with neighboring Midwestern states.

The governor's agenda brings attention to the state's "record investment" this year in K-12 education, paying down $150 million in teacher pensions and freeing up funds for pay increases.

Almost 300 school corporations, special education cooperatives and vocational centers raised salaries this year, according to Holcomb's agenda, with 184 of those reporting giving raises equal to or greater than those awarded in the year before.

The governor's compensation commission is expected to complete a final report in spring 2020 for consideration during the 2021 budget session. The commission has been criticized by the state's top education official, Jennifer McCormick, for not including enough of an educator's voice on the panel composed of business executives and community leaders, but no teachers with voting authority.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, called the governor's education goals "lackluster" and "nothing short of disappointing," saying Holcomb's agenda fails to hear the voices of more than 16,000 educators who took to the Indiana Statehouse on Nov. 19 to advocate reopening the state's two-year budget, approved this spring, in the coming legislative session. 

"He has vowed to continue kicking the can down the road on the issue of teacher salaries and have them wait until 2021 for any sort of answers, good or bad," Lanane said in a statement. "He boasts of teacher pay raises ignoring that those raises were often due to local referendums, increasing taxes on Hoosiers because the governor didn't act."

Holcomb also pledged his intention to work with key stakeholders to identify unfunded mandates and burdensome training requirements for recommended elimination in 2021.

The governor said he will work with legislators this session to make optional one of those mandates — a requirement that 15 of teachers' 90 professional growth points needed for license renewal be earned through workforce-related training or "externships."

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State Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said he was pleased to see Holcomb acknowledge necessary change in the professional growth requirements, but that it does not go far enough. Ford has filed legislation to completely remove the licensing mandate, unpopular among teachers.

"What is the point of keeping the 15-hour requirement in law but only making it optional?" Ford said in a statement. "Keeping this externship as a suggestion still sends a message to our teachers that the state doesn't think they are doing enough for our kids."

In the coming session, Holcomb also plans to back ILEARN hold-harmless legislation, for which he pledged his support in August, and action to redesign education credit earned through the Indiana Department of Correction to encourage greater success for offenders' re-entry into society.

The Indiana State Teachers Association is slated to announce its agenda for the 2020 session Thursday. Over the weekend, the Indiana chapter of the American Federation of Teachers endorsed state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, who is running to challenge the Republican incumbent in the coming gubernatorial election.

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