It is difficult to argue that one policy area is more important than any other, but if you were to hold a spitball shooter to my head, I would have to pick education.
Good education policy pays dividends forever. Bad education policy cheats our children and limits an individual's potential in every aspect of life.
Already this session, we have had a lot of discussion and floor debate about education issues.
Some of that debate has been prompted by two piece of legislation that I introduced. Both were concerned with making sure there is a qualified teacher in every classroom. Having a qualified teacher in the classroom is one of the most important factors in determining student success. On this issue there can be no debate.
But there was plenty of debate about my legislation.
Twice I have introduced legislation that would have given teachers the opportunity to receive an additional $1,000 per year for five years for passing a proficiency exam in their subject area. There was no mandate; it was voluntary for both school corporations and teachers.
I offered the concept as an amendment to two separate education bills. The first bill would require school corporations to develop cultural competency standards for teachers, and the second bill would provide bonuses for minority male teachers.
My amendment to the cultural competency bill would have required a teacher to demonstrate cultural competency in addition to subject-area proficiency in order to receive the extra pay.
As I said in my remarks on the floor, "By offering a financial incentive for proficiency, we will reward teachers who are willing to demonstrate voluntarily the proficiency we trust they have, and by tying that incentive to cultural competency, we will ensure that no one gets rewarded for knowing the periodic table of the elements without also understanding the elements of human interaction in a diverse society, that no one gets rewarded for knowing proper English but not being able to communicate with children."
And in a further attempt at bipartisanship, I offered to be a co-author of the cultural competency bill in exchange for its author's support of my amendment. I made the offer on the House floor, knowing that the Republican caucus was opposed to the cultural competency bill but that with my amendment and my support of the bill, many Republican members would go ahead and vote for it.
My gesture was rejected, and the amendment was defeated along party lines. The bill later passed along party lines, but it was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate. It could have been a great moment of bipartisanship.
On that same bill, I also offered an amendment that would have given school corporations the option of offering higher pay to teachers in shortage areas such as math, science, foreign language and special education.
That amendment also failed along party lines.
In a major education speech last week, President Barack Obama said, "Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom."
I don't agree with President Obama on everything. On certain subjects we disagree deeply. But on this, we agree. In every other profession, we reward excellence. We should treat our teachers as the professionals that they are by giving them the opportunity to earn pay that is more competitive with the private-sector pay they give up for a career in teaching.
Let me be very clear. Most teachers are good teachers, and they deserve more money. Excellent teachers deserve even more.
President Obama continued, "Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance."
Again, we agree. I voted for House Bill 1027, which would establish a prekindergarten grant pilot program. The bill passed 57-41; I was one of only five Republicans who supported it.
Finally, teachers deserve to be treated with respect in the classroom. I am hopeful the Legislature will pass the governor's initiative, which provides a school employee with qualified immunity for a disciplinary action taken in good faith. Students cannot learn in a chaotic classroom, and teachers should not have to worry about legal reprisals for maintaining discipline.
Education is too important to let it be hijacked by partisan politics and the special interests that promote the status quo. I pledge to continue to work toward bipartisan solutions in education.