WARSAW – Education issues were front and center Friday at the legislative “Third House” in Warsaw as two Republican state lawmakers defended the state’s efforts to provide more support for teachers.
State lawmakers are more than halfway done with this year’s short legislative session. Attempts to consider legislation to boost teacher pay this year died quickly when Republicans rebuffed ideas of using state reserves or other sources ahead of next year’s budget session.
Instead, the Republican-controlled General Assembly chose to use some surplus money to pay for higher education projects and declined an effort by Democrats to fund teacher raises with money from a retirement fund, according to State Sen. Ryan Mishler.
Mishler was one of three lawmakers who took part in a legislative Third House at the Shrine Building Friday, Feb. 14, that was hosted by the Warsaw Rotary Club and organized by Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce. State Rep. Dave Wolkins and Curt Nisley also participated.
Mishler said Democrats wanted to divert $100 million from the “396 teacher retirement fund,” which is already heavily in debt. The move would have cost $2 billion extra as the state works harder to eliminate the retirement fund debt.
“That’s the reason we didn’t want to do it because it takes from the retirement fund,” Mishler said.
Meanwhile, Wolkins went after the organizers of the Red for Ed protest that attracted a huge crowd in Indianapolis in November.
Just weeks ago, Wolkins had publicly sparred with Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert over how much money the district had dedicated to teacher pay hikes, with Wolkins claiming the district could have provided more.
Wolkins had spoken out after a union leader predicted Wollkins would counter with Republican “talking points.”
On Friday, Wolkins encouraged people to Google Red for Ed to learn more about the organizers and how they started.
“Teachers are being used by the group. It was started by Democrat Socialists of America. They have two agendas. Get rid of (President) Trump and Betsy DeVos of the Department of Education. Teachers are so frustrated they bought into it. They were duped,” Wolkins said.
“They had legitimate concerns and we are attempting to address those,” he added.
Red For Ed had the full support of the Indiana State Teachers Association, but searches online can turn up supposed links between the protest and “socialists.”
Mishler also brought up a recent scandal involving two virtual schools funded significantly with public tax dollars.
An investigation into the virtual charter schools in Daleville found that the schools inappropriately received more than $68 million combined from the state.
State investigators determined last year that the charter schools had inflated their enrollment to defraud the state The new report details fraud, misuse of funds and a lack of oversight by school officials and the schools’ charter authorizer, Daleville Community Schools.
The case has been turned over to the State Attorney General, and Mishler said he hopes somebody is prosecuted.
He said lawmakers need to work with the state department of education to improve the monitoring of virtual schools.
Specifically, Mishler said the state should hold the authorizing entity for schools more accountable for outstanding notes and other issues in order “to make them think twice about authorizing some of these outfits.”
Several educators, including Hoffert, attended the meeting and afterward met privately with the lawmakers.