[r63] Messmer Report: Putting students first to strengthen Indiana

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, March 11, 2011

A focus of the Strengthen Indiana Plan is to expand education opportunities for Hoosier children.  A number of bills were authored this session to help us create stronger schools and provide students with outstanding education opportunities. Three of those bills have made it through the first step this session, one in the House, and two in the Senate, that would help us create stronger schools and to improve on systems that have not been changed in over 25 years. House Bill 1002, Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 575 have made it through the first step in the process and are now ready to be heard by the opposite House they came from. My goal now is to dispel a few myths about the bills and to let you know my intention is to create the best possible education for children in Indiana.

HB 1002 will expand charter schools in Indiana. Charter schools are public schools and must accept all students. When more students apply to attend than the school can accommodate, the charter must hold a lottery or other objective selection method. The average student population at Indiana public charter schools have mostly minority students, about 70 percent usually, and about 65 percent of the students are also eligible for free or reduced lunches. Traditional public schools in Indiana typically have about 27 percent minority students and 47 percent who are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

Charter schools are also at a disadvantage when it comes to funding. They receive no funding during the first six months of operation and will only receive local property tax dollars for transportation purposes. One of the most important aspects of HB 1002 is that it will increase charter school accountability to the levels that all public schools currently hold, and to standards above those of traditional public schools by holding sponsors accountable for school performance. I do not believe that charter schools are silver bullet for all of our education problems, but I do believe that all children deserve quality options when it comes to their education.

SB 1 will require local school districts to develop teacher and principal evaluation systems that consider multiple measures, including student growth and student engagement. Students' academic growth and performance should be one part of a comprehensive evaluation system that examines multiple factors. While the bill calls for that data to be one component of evaluations, local leaders will determine what specific data should be used, such as student growth data or teacher-developed assessment data, etc. Besides the data component, local evaluations should consider student's needs, teachers' level of responsibility and teachers' experience.

SB 1 does not mandate a one-size fits all process. The bill calls for local school corporations to use evaluations to offer meaningful feedback to all educators, develop targeted professional development, inform promotion and placement decisions, and create salary scales based on more than just seniority and degrees held. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) is creating models for school systems to use, but the state will not mandate the use of these models.

A final point of clarification on SB 1: the bill will not decrease a current teacher's pay. Teachers currently earning a base salary that includes all of their years of experience and a master's degree will continue to make at least that much, and no less, going forward.  I have heard arguments that the bill does not make that clear, so there is an amendment written to clarify that point. I would not support that bill without that amendment. SB 1 will change how pay increases are granted after July 1, 2012. From that point forward, pay increases could be based on factors such as years of experience, student achievement, leadership roles of teachers, and academic need within the district.

The last bill, SB 575, would clarify the existing laws concerning collective bargaining between teachers' unions and local school corporations to reflect a better focus on providing high-quality instruction to students. The bill would not eliminate teachers' collective bargaining rights; it would merely focus contracts negotiated between teachers' unions and school corporations on salaries and wage-related benefits.

In SB 575 teachers would still have the right to appeal and to be heard (with representation present) by both the superintendent and the school board. The bill does not allow the state superintendent to cancel any teacher's contract at any time, and current teachers will not lose tenure if they already have it.

These bills contain a lot of information, and I have only been able to highlight the issues I have heard about most frequently. If you would like to read more about the bills IDOE has excellent outlines of each bill individually. They can be found at http://www.doe.in.gov/  and Putting Students First. Or, if you'd like to see the bills in the House or Senate and follow their progress, you can visitwww.in.gov/legislative and visit the Bills and Resolutions tab on the left side of the page.


Rep. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper)