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Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb gives his 2019 State of the State address.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb gives his 2019 State of the State address.

Holcomb’s education agenda looks to address teacher pay, unfunded mandates in 2021

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has his eye on 2021.

His goals for the upcoming legislative session, announced Tuesday, won’t tackle some of the toughest education debates right away. Instead, Holcomb is looking to tee up issues such as improving teacher pay and eliminating unfunded mandates for 2021, when the state will write its next two-year budget and the governor will get to choose the state’s education leader.

That also sets up Holcomb to deal with teacher pay after his re-election bid in November.

Holcomb’s special commission studying teacher compensation expects to release its recommendations in the spring. Educators’ feedback to the commission about the burdens of reporting and training requirements also led Holcomb to promise to slim down unfunded or unnecessary mandates in 2021.

Holcomb, however, pledged to tie up two problems that arose this year, including passing a “hold harmless” provision to prevent low ILEARN scores from negatively affecting school grades and teacher evaluations. He also wants to walk back a controversial new requirement for teachers to complete workforce-focused professional development — such as an unpaid externship with a company — in order to renew their licenses.

Holcomb had initially advocated for the requirement to help teachers better understand career opportunities and workforce needs. But in the face of significant backlash from educators, Republicans leaders are supporting making the requirement optional.

His other stated priorities include requiring schools to forge relationships with mental health providers in order to qualify for school safety grants, and raising the smoking age to 21 to curb vaping among high schoolers.