Education is top priority for State Senator Ron Alting in 2020 Legislative Session

Five of Sen. Alting's nine authored bills are about education and schools. From teacher salaries to adding another level to school bus stop arm violations, we break down those five bills.

Posted: Jan 8, 2020 10:55 AM
Updated: Jan 8, 2020 3:42 PM

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WLFI) - It's been about a month and a half since thousands of teachers from every corner of the state rallied at the Indiana Statehouse. 

"I think it was a big influence on the General Assembly," said State Senator Ron Alting about the Red for Ed rally. "I think it was very positive and I supported that march and I think they got their point across."

They got their point across so much that five of the nine bills Sen. Alting is initially authoring has to do with schools and education in some capacity.

From teacher salaries to adding another level to deter drivers from committing school bus stop arm violations, we'll break down all five of those bills and tell you why he is championing them.

SB 221- Student Assessments and Accountability

One of the demands from the Red for Ed rally was an ILEARN hold harmless. 

"It was a new test, a standardized test, that both private schools and our public schools did very bad on," said Sen. Alting.

According to test results released in the fall, about 2/3rds of all Indiana students in grades three through eight did not pass the new test. The hold harmless bill would waive these poor scores.

"So that way any pay increases that teachers deserve can't be held against them, they cannot grade the school on the test score, or can they grade the school corporation," he said.

The House of Representatives is also passing a hold harmless bill, authored by Representative Dale DeVon. Sen. Alting said they will work fast to get these bills through the process so that it will be on the books for schools and teachers.

"I feel it is not a fair judgment on our teachers, on our students, on our schools and on our school corporations," he said.

SB 235- Teacher Salary Increases

Another big demand from teachers across the state, and our State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, is a pay increase for teachers. According to data from The Rockefeller Institute, Indiana comes in last out of all states for average salary change from 2002 to 2017.

"The statistics tells us three out of five teachers will quit teaching within the first five years and that's simply because there is not an income," he said.

His bill would take 100% of the sports betting tax revenue, which started coming in after sports betting became legal in July of 2019, and put it into a grant specifically for teacher pay raises. He said the good thing about this plan is that this tax revenue is brand new. It hasn't been allocated anywhere yet, so they aren't taking money away from any other group of people who also need funding.

On Tuesday, a House Committee turned down a proposal from Democrats that would have given $291 million in unexpected state tax revenue toward one-time teacher pay bonuses. Sen. Alting said fixing the teacher salary problem is not about writing a big, one-time check.

"In three, or four or five years, we'd be right back to where we are," he said. "So yes, we have to catch up and pay them what they deserve, and then we need to have a revenue source that continues to give teachers the pay increase that they deserve."

He said this money from sports betting is not the cure-all for teacher salaries, but it's a start and it would be constant revenue.

"It's not hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, however, it is absolutely a beginning, a start and it's steady income that would provide millions of dollars every year."

SB 94- Tax Credit for Education Donations

The sports betting tax isn't the only avenue for income that Sen. Alting wants to give schools. Currently, if an individual or a company donates money to a private school, they can get an income tax break. SB 94 would create language that allows the same for donations to any public school foundation or school corporation.

The bill says the maximum individual taxpayer credit is $1,000 in the case of a single return, and $2,000 in the case of joint returns. It also lays out guidelines for corporate donations.

"Hopefully this is also a stream of revenue for public education that presently is not there and is greatly needed throughout our state," he said.

In the past, bills regarding teacher pay raises haven't had much luck at the statehouse. Sen. Alting said we'll have to wait and see on his bills, but that he's hopeful now that Governor Eric Holcomb seems to have changed his tune.

On Monday, Gov. Holcomb said he would propose a plan during his State of the State address scheduled for January 14th. He didn't give any details about what this plan would be.

SB 219- School Bus Stop Arm

In the aftermath of the death of three Rochester children and the successful passing of Indiana's first school bus stop arm violations law last year, Sen. Alting is looking to enforce another level of punishment.

"It's a harsh bill that is, right now, a platform for conversation and amending," he said.

SB 219 would permit the civil forfeiture of a vehicle if the vehicle is used to recklessly pass a school bus with an extended stop arm. Sen. Alting said a former sheriff suggested this to him, that the state could take away the license and could impound your car.

"I think sometimes harsh actions require harsh consequences," he said.

He said he talked to local bus driver who say there hasn't been much of an improvement on the roads since the accident happened and since the law took effect. News 18 caught a school bus stop arm violation on camera Yeager Road in West Lafayette. At the time of that story in mid-November, WLPD had issued 78 tickets just on Yeager Road.

"Law enforcement that I have shared this bill with have told me that it's going to be hard to impound a car," he said. "So this bill is out there if we need a vehicle to add amendments to improve safety for our kids on buses."

SB 220- School Employee Safety

This bill aims to create more protections for teachers and bus drivers who deal with unruly students. Sen. Alting said he decided to write this bill after teachers came to him about the need for this language.

"It sets guidelines down on reporting incidents that happen in the classroom and guideline for removal of a problem child," he said.

It is a broad and lengthy bill that Sen. Alting said is still a work in progress.

One part of the bill says that a school corporation cannot create any rules that limits a teacher or staff member's ability to remove a student from class for a certain period of time. And it would require a principal to report a physical assault by a student on a person, having the power to involve law enforcement.

"This is something teachers approached me about in today's troubled world that we live in and giving them more power to deal with children in our classrooms," he said. 

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