Indiana lawmakers prepare for controversial debate Monday on whether teacher shortage exists

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INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 18, 2015) – A big debate arrives at the Statehouse Monday that could impact every Hoosier student across the state.

Lawmakers on the Interim Study Committee on Education will try to determine whether a widespread teacher shortage exists in Indiana and if it’s worse than in other states.

The question has turned deeply political.

“We have a number of national experts that are planning to come in,” State Rep. Bob Behning said (R-Indianapolis), the vice chairperson of the committee.

Beyond that, lawmakers will also hear from local teachers and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who with the Department of Education has launched her own commission, noting a continual drop in the number of Hoosiers wanting to become teachers.

“If all they’re doing is getting input and perhaps arguing there isn’t a shortage, if that’s all that results from it, then it will be a waste of taxpayer time, taxpayer dollars,” Teresa Meredith said in a recent interview, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Recent data from the Department of Education reports the state issued 21 percent fewer licenses in the 2014-15 school year than the year before.

But who or what is to blame is where the issue becomes unclear.

“There’s no doubt there’s a teacher shortage,” House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) recently said. “It’s happened on numerous occasions in the last 25, 30 years, certainly not unique to Indiana."

Bosma said it’s a serious issue facing lawmakers this week, and in the months to come, but discredits the notion Republican-led reforms in the General Assembly have caused a shortage.

“It’s based on a variety of factors,” he said. “Number one, how good our economy is right now. Young people have many more opportunities, high-paying opportunities. Two is teacher pay level, and that needs to be examined again.”

Lawmakers will hear from a plethora of experts Monday, as the meeting sets the stage for any potential legislation for the upcoming session.

“I don’t want to make any assumptions,” Behning said. “We have some demographers coming in. I think we really need to look at millennials.”

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