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John Krulll commentary: Duck and cover won’t work in this case

Not long ago, the Indiana State Teachers Association issued a call for the state’s lawmakers to address a pressing problem during the upcoming legislative session.

If you missed it, you’re not alone. Chances are, the leaders of the Indiana General Assembly weren’t paying attention, either.

Their focus seems to be on “solving” problems that don’t exist—cracking down on transgender athletes, for example. (Roughly .4% of Indiana’s population identifies as transgender and only two students in the past decade have petitioned the state to compete as transgender, but that didn’t stop conservative legislators from throwing endless hours and dollars at launching a jihad to make life more miserable for an already oppressed minority.)

When the problem is real—as the one ISTA highlighted is—our brave lawmakers take a different approach. They close their eyes and hope it will go away.

If that doesn’t work, they run and hide.

The problem they’d prefer to ignore is a big one—a shortage of teachers in Indiana schools.

When ISTA issued its call, the organization reported that Indiana had 1,500 educator job openings that hadn’t been filled. This shortage, ISTA said, affects at least 35,000 Hoosier students.

This tracks with the state’s own numbers. The Indiana Department of Education says there are more than 2,800 education jobs available in the state.

When they’re looking to duck any responsibility for solving this problem, the state’s conservative lawmakers and their self-proclaimed “education reform” allies say Indiana isn’t alone in dealing with such a shortfall. It’s a national problem, they say.

They’re right about that.

But there’s a reason it’s a national problem.

Education Week just did some fine reporting on the teacher shortage crisis in America.

That reporting included the findings from a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a global think tank. That organization examined teacher compensation in the world’s 26 industrialized nations by comparing the average teacher’s wages to those of the average college graduate in each country.

Where did the United States rank among those countries when it comes to paying teachers?

Dead last.

Here in America, teachers make 61% of the average college graduate’s salary. And, to get that slender paycheck, American teachers work more hours than their colleagues in any other industrialized nation.

Here in the Hoosier state, the situation is, if anything, even worse than it is in most of the nation.

Indiana ranks 42nd among the states in terms of teacher pay.

That’s right.

We’re near the very bottom of the very bottom.

Makes one proud to be a Hoosier, doesn’t it?

And here’s the thing—this problem is only going to get worse.

Economists have been warning for the past dozen years or so that the world will face a deep and lasting labor shortage. We’re just at the beginning of this worker drought now, but we’re already seeing the effects in the form of rising prices, supply-line blockages and service slowdowns.

The peak of this labor shortage will hit in 2030.

Between now and then, enterprises of all sorts—businesses, non-profits and, yes, schools—will be engaged in an increasingly Darwinian, life-or-death struggle to find and hold onto qualified workers.

In that sort of environment, Indiana’s message to teachers—“we plan to work you harder than anyone else will and pay you much less”—isn’t likely to be effective.

Before long, if the state doesn’t take steps to address the problem, the shortage of teachers in Indiana classrooms will be as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.

Hoosier students will suffer, of course, but so will the rest of us as more and more people refuse to come work in a state that places a higher priority on persecuting miniscule minorities than addressing genuine crises. Then, businesses will relocate to the states—and even nations—where they can find the labor they need.

This is one of those moments to pay more attention to the state’s problems than the average Indiana legislator does.

We Hoosiers have a big challenge, a crisis to avert.

And picking fights with small groups that can’t swing back won’t help us meet it.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College.

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