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Strengthening Indiana Plan – Part 3: Expand Education Opportunities

In parts one and two of this series on the “Strengthening Indiana Plan, I looked at the Indiana House Republicans plan to Protect Hoosier Taxpayers and Promote Hoosier Job Creation.  In part three, I will look at how they plan to expand education opportunities.

Education has long been the “Third Rail” in Hoosier politics especially in difficult economic times.  Democrats don’t want to see any cuts in fundingt to education and even want to see increases, whereas Republicans know there can’t be cuts, so they seek to flat line funding for sake of not taking our state budget into the red.

In 2009 when there was a stalemate on the budget, Democrats howled for education increases while Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Bennett said school districts could survive on current budgets, while some school districts could stand to make cuts on their own.  He pointed specifically to school boards who get cushy insurance benefits and cuts in administrative staff while redirecting that money towards the classroom, including teacher salaries.

With what the Republicans are proposing you can see Dr. Bennett’s fingerprints all over it.  And frankly, these are the kinds of steps that only seek to serve the needs of students, not the line the pockets of the teacher’s union.  At the same time, teachers who excel should be rewarded, not fired because they haven’t been at a school as long as another teacher whose performance is poor.  And that’s what we see with the Republican plan.

There will be a focus on rewarding quality teachers, by allowing merit pay for high performing teachers.  In addition, their plan provides bonus pay to teachers passing a voluntary competency test in their core subject area.  I was blessed to go to a school where every teacher was, for the most part, more than qualified to teach their particular subject and they were not payed a lot.  But if they could get a (at times) sorely needed bonus just by proving they know the stuff they claim to teach, what’s the harm?

One of the core evaluators on how a effective a teacher is, is test score.  This isn’t a 100% metric as some students do legitimately struggle with certain subjects.  I know.  I was one of those students.  But at the same time, I agree with Dr. Bennett and House Republicans that allowing improvement in student test scores should be one part of a teacher’s overall evaluation.  By doing this, you can address high performing teacher retention in layoff situations.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a concept that is lost on Hoosier parents.  According to a 2008 Public Opinion Survey conducted by the Center for Education and Evaluation Policy (CEEP), 71% of Hoosiers believe that both student performance outcomes and teacher experience should be factors used to determine teacher pay increases.

In addition, Republicans want to focus education dollars on the classroom by continuing progress on education dollars following the child, not funding institutions.  You know those palace high schools with huge swimming pools and excessively large atriums?  Forget them.  Money would actually go toward the classroom.

The Republican plan would also encourage all school corporations to utilize joint purchasing options available through either the state purchasing office or their regional education service center office.

And finally, (and I know this is a big one for me) their plan would expand educational options for Hoosier families.  I have long been a fan of, and advocate for, school choice.  First of all, a parent’s taxes go to funding the schools.  Shouldn’t the parent decide where they want to send their children to be educated?  And second, why should it be the government’s job to tell me or any other parent where we can send our children to school?  This is why I especially love this section.  It empowers the parent to make the choice, not the state.  The expanded educational options would include:

  • Protect and expand existing school choice options in public schools
  • Provide children who attend failing schools grants to attend a school of choice
  • Enhance the education scholarship tax credit to provide more low-income families with school choice options
  • Remove caps , statutory and financial barriers for Charter Schools while enhancing funding for virtual charter schools and distance learning opportunities

As you can see, these are tremendous steps to put the power of learning into the hands of the parents, students and teachers where it belongs.  These are positive steps that can help children get the education they deserve while keeping everyone involved accountable.

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