Literacy among top priorities for Indiana’s secretary of education
Bumping up funding for Indiana students is one of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s top priorities as state lawmakers work on crafting a new two-year budget. Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner sees 2023 as “a year of opportunity” for K-12 education with the governor’s request for $1.2 billion in funding, including money to increase teacher pay and eliminate textbook and curriculum fees. But one of her key focus areas looking ahead, which is also part of Holcomb’s agenda, is literacy.
Jenner discussed the state of education, including literacy, in Indiana in an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.
“In Indiana, we actually have been seeing a declining literacy rate since the school year 2012-2013; COVID further exacerbated that,” said Jenner. “So, we must do everything we can to make sure our teachers have the top training in Science of Reading strategies. It is so important that we stay laser focused on making sure all of our children can read.”
Jenner cites the $111 million investment announced in August that the state called the largest financial investment in literacy in the state’s history. The funding included $60 million from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.
The Indiana Department of Education said the investment will support the deployment of instructional coaches to Hoosier schools, offer stipends of up to $1,200 to teachers who participate in professional development focused on the Science of Reading, provide targeted support for students in need of improving their reading skills, and create a literacy center focused on Science of Reading strategies.
The Science of Reading is a research-based strategy that integrates instructional practices with efforts focused around phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, the IDOE said.
Jenner said K-12 education will increasingly engage in efforts to grow the state’s talent pipeline. She said partnerships with the private sector like one in Evansville are key.
“They have a program in partnership with Toyota right there in Bosse High School, where Toyota industry leaders come in and work directly with students on skill development and making sure that they know you have to have good communication beyond just Tik Tok,” she said. “You have to be able to connect. You also have to be able to work well with others. It’s that common skill development that is really our workforce, and partnering with them, we can best serve kids to build those those skills.”
Teacher pay is also a priority for Holcomb’s administration, and Jenner said progress is being made in increasing the average salary.
“The average teacher salary goal is $60,000. When the governor first set this goal, it was around $54,000; it increased to $57,000, and now the goal post is $60,000,” she said. “That’s not the only reason educators are called to this profession. It’s so much more, and yet, we know that we have to compete and make sure we’re paying our teachers.”
The governor is also proposing $160 million annually to cover the cost of textbooks an curriculum materials for families in traditional public and charter schools, as well as students who qualify for free and reduced lunch at non-public schools.
Jenner echoed the importance of such a provision for families.
“We’ve been hearing from a lot of different parents and families who are talking about the impact on their pocketbook. I just got off the phone with one who was sharing [that cost is] a couple of weeks of grocery bills. [That’s] what it takes to just pay for their child’s textbooks and every little thing adds up.”
Jenner said the state the outlook for education in Indiana is bright.
“We have developed so many different partners from, in addition to K 12, higher education, industry partners, philanthropy partners who’ve really come to the table and said, ‘How can we help? How can we be a part of the solution?’ That’s what we need as a state to really move the needle on outcomes for students.”