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Zay talks upcoming legislative session

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

The 121st Indiana General Assembly officially began on November 20 with an Organization Day before the session reconvenes on January 3.

The 2019 session will last until April 29 and will be a budget year, meaning it will consist of creating a comprehensive plan to fund government services for the upcoming two years.

As the session begins, State Senator Andy Zay plans to represent and support those who are considered vulnerable in Indiana.

“I’m ready to get to work and to serve District 17. I look forward to helping Indiana’s most vulnerable Hoosiers with permanent placement or foster families as well as supporting educators throughout the district in this year’s legislative session,” Zay said in a statehouse press release.

Zay said he is looking at a lot of ideas for this upcoming session, specifically those that surround the issues and priorities he campaigned on.

This includes working with the mental health industry on making licenses within mental health jobs valid in other states.

“We need to make sure that our licenses are transferable – reciprocity if you will – from other states,” he said. “I’m working on some things with mental health and I’m working with some other legislatures which is called ‘Nurse’s Compact.’ What that enables people to do is come to our state and work, get into the jobs that are here and are ready to go.”

Zay said the biggest piece of legislation that was passed last year dealt with teacher licensure, differentiated pay and supplemental pay.

“We looked at a lot of different avenues in creating opportunities for folks to get into the classroom and teach,” he said. “And not only that, support our educators who are currently teaching and enable our superintendents and people to get more pay for the teachers.”

Zay said since the legislation was discussed, contracts from school corporations in the state have been reviewed and teacher pay is already being worked on.

When it comes to how the bill is able to help increase teacher pay, Zay explained that it’s not about where the money comes from, but how the schools are allowed to allocate the money.

He added that the biggest challenge he notices and that people communicate to him, is getting educators in the classroom and keeping them there.

“And the starting point is so low in some instances,” Zay said. “So what the supplemental pay will allow them to do is give higher raises and bonuses to the bottom end so we can get them up into a higher pay and keep them in the field and give them a better lifestyle.”

He went on to say that differential pay comes in handy for teachers in higher demand. For example, those who teach Special Education or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) classes.

“It was really about teacher pay and stability and more control and how they manage their raises as well,” he said. “(The prior approach) was keeping the rich richer and the poor, it kept them down at a lower level. So we’re trying to enable the younger teachers that are just coming into the profession to climb the salary schedule more aggressively.”

Zay said that for rural counties, he hopes for strong collaboration. This includes collaboration with surrounding universities, career specialists and even those who are retired but could teach courses in the field they retired from.

“The challenge in the rural communities is drawing in those resources, first of all,” he said. “And second of all, utilize as much as available to them online and the internet domain. The key is collaboration and the collaboration is what really is going to make all schools successful in Indiana because you’re going to have to collaborate on many lines – certainly in hiring educators and offering the class load that you want to offer and then also, most importantly, creating those opportunities and options for kids in the pathway for graduation and what they want to be after they graduate high school.”

With the beginning of a new session, Zay said he has already personally met with quite a few people to listen to financial requests and how funding can be increased for schools, institutions of disabilities, transitional housing and opioid prevention programs.

To contact Zay with questions or comments, those interested can email him at Senator.Zay@iga.in.gov or call him at 800-382-8467.