John Krull

John Krull

The 2020 session of the Indiana General Assembly has just begun, and already the campaign to duck the state’s biggest challenge is in full swing.

Before the Legislature’s first week had ended, Democrats in both chambers floated proposals to increase teacher pay and education funding. Republicans in both chambers, as if taking target practice, shot down each and every idea.

Patience, the GOP said. Gov. Eric Holcomb will address this question in the State of the State.

But whatever the governor proposes likely will apply only to future sessions, not this one, said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

There were at least a couple of problems with the wait-and-see approach Republicans advanced. One problem was immediate, the other more long-term.

The immediate problem is that teachers who struggle to pay their bills and schools that battle to balance their budgets can take little solace from the fact that help maybe, possibly, might be, could be coming some day in some way that no one can stay. Rents and mortgages are due on a regular basis. Landlords and bankers for some odd reason are reluctant to accept politicians’ hints and good wishes as payment.

This is particularly the case when the politicians in question have done nothing to engender trust.

Teachers, schools and their allies are right to doubt that Republicans’ ardor to deal with this problem will increase after the November election, when the GOP no longer has any immediate fear of facing the voters’ wrath.

Republican lawmakers will do wind sprints to address the concerns, however minor, of the state’s business or corporate communities. But the needs, however great or dire, of workers produces in these same GOP legislators a languor that approaches torpor.

This brings us to the larger, long-term problem.

The state’s hostility to labor is an indulgence Hoosiers no longer can afford.

The world is headed toward what is likely to be an economic crisis. For at least the past decade economists have projected that there will be a global labor shortage soon. Most projections say that, by the year 2030, there will be 25 percent more jobs than there will be qualified people to fill them.

The competition to train, recruit and retain skilled labor will intensify every year, every month, every week and every day between now and then.

And how is Indiana responding to this looming challenge?

Well, our state’s leaders are venturing boldly into the 21st century by embracing 1980s solutions such as tax cuts or, worse, 1950s ones like right-to-work legislation.

The first supposed solution tells both potential employers and employees that we’re not willing to invest in preparing workers to meet new and evolving demands and challenges. We encourage those workers, on a regular basis, to “skill up” if they want more money, but we back such exhortations up with very little money.

The second solution tells workers that their interests are at best secondary in the Hoosier state — and that wage suppression is one of our state government’s goals.

This is not just dumb.

It’s self-destructive.

The countries and states that are preparing effectively to meet the challenges of the coming era of labor scarcity are investing more, not less, in education and training. They’re looking at ways to enhance the quality of life for the workers they know they’ll need for their communities to survive, much less prosper.

More important, they’re looking for ways to build collaborative — not adversarial — relationships between business and labor.

And they’re building good, strong schools for their workers — and their workers’ children.

We Hoosiers, on the other hand, continue to treat our public-school system like a scuffed up old soccer ball — something we can kick around whenever we feel like it. Our thinking seems to be that the rest of the world can wait while we practice our footwork for contests that ended decades ago.

We Hoosiers will pay for this foolishness.

And so will our descendants.

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.

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