[r72] A Clere View of the Statehouse (2/10/2009)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Start Date: 2/10/2009 All Day
End Date: 2/10/2009

STATEHOUSE, Feb. 10, 2009 - The results are in.

Last month, I mailed a newsletter to all registered voters in my district. It included a survey with 11 questions on a variety of issues.

Thank you to each of you who took the time to respond. The results are based on 1,073 responses.

Surveys continue to trickle in, and it's not too late to complete one. It's available on my Web site, www.in.gov/h72. If you need a paper copy, call my office at 1-800-382-9841.

In addition to answering the questions, many of you shared comments. Know that I will personally read every comment. I have read many of them, and I already have taken action in response to some.

My survey was not scientific. The responses do not represent a random sample. Had the questions been worded differently, the results might have been different. I will not support or oppose legislation based solely on the results. Nonetheless, the results offer valuable insight, and I am grateful for the large number of responses and the thought and effort so many of you put into your answers and comments.

Seventy-two percent of those who responded to the survey support a constitutional amendment capping property taxes. That was the subject of last week's column, which is available on the Tribune's website. I support caps, not because they are the best or final solution, but because they are a step in the right direction.

Should the state attorney general defend teachers' use of reasonable disciplinary actions in school and at school-sponsored events? Ninety-two percent said "Yes," with only 4 percent "No" and 4 percent "No opinion." There was more agreement on this issue than any other.

I am on the House Committee on Education, and last week we passed a bill that would help reestablish discipline in the classroom by granting civil immunity to teachers and other school employees who take reasonable disciplinary action.

The next two questions were also about education.

The second education question asked whether the state should require schools to spend 65 percent of education funding in the classroom, including teacher salaries.

This question generated the second-highest percentage of no-opinion responses, 18 percent, which tells me many people want more information before making up their mind. Fifty-eight percent said "Yes," and 23 percent said "No."

Currently, on average, schools spend 61 percent of their funding in the classroom. Some argue that 65 percent is an arbitrary number. Maybe it is, but no one can argue that the classroom isn't the most important place in education. Important and necessary work happens in administrative offices, but children learn in the classroom. At a time when we don't have more dollars, we must spend as much of every dollar we do have in the classroom. This includes better pay for good teachers.

Performance-based merit pay for teachers was the third education question, and 73 percent of those who answered the survey support it, with 20 percent against it and 7 percent with no opinion.

Last week, I introduced legislation that would have offered teachers the opportunity to take a proficiency exam in their subject area and receive a bonus of $1,000 a year for five years for passing. After five years, they could take the test again and keep getting the extra pay. Good teachers deserve even more, but this would have been a start.

My legislation, which was in the form of an amendment to an education bill, was defeated 48-48 along party lines. Every Republican voted for it, and every Democrat who was present voted against it.

I say "every Democrat who was present" because four who had just participated in a number of other votes suddenly disappeared when it was time to vote on my amendment. I wrote the amendment in a way intended to garner bipartisan support, but merit pay for teachers has historically been a highly partisan issue, with the teachers union-supported Democrats opposing it.

As the survey results suggest, there is strong support for performance-based pay for teachers, and I will continue to push for it at every opportunity I have.

The fifth question asked whether state law should punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Eight-four percent said "Yes," 10 percent "No" and 6 percent "No opinion."

We need federal immigration policy that is strong, consistent and humane. In the meantime, the states are left to fend for themselves, and it seems reasonable to punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The key word is "knowingly."

Any such law should be crafted so as not to place an unreasonable burden on business. We are a nation of immigrants, and our doors should always remain open and hinge on good policy.

I have six more questions to discuss, and I will try to wrap up all six in next week's column.