[r76] Putting Kids First (4/8/2011)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Start Date: 4/8/2011 All Day
End Date: 4/8/2011
For years, I have driven around with a "Kids First" license plate on my car. That phrase pretty much sums up my stance on education reform. Legislation offered this session has provided a dramatic and a definitive focus on how we reform schools and put children first.

Much of the school reform offered provides opportunities for strengthening our state as a leader in educating for the future of America. School reform has not been easy. Being an educator advocating for school reform has not been easy, but knowing that at the heart of this reform effort, we will see a state focused solely on providing a better future for our youth has.

I understand the fear educators have over some of the proposed reforms. Information available, both accurate and inaccurate, has certainly been abundant.

As a state, we must recognize that if Indiana wishes to have a 21st Century economy that can compete with the world, we must have a system that adequately prepares our students.

Proposed legislation in Senate Bill 1 would require local schools to develop fair, meaningful, annual evaluations that consider many factors, with one key factor being student learning, to identify our best teachers and principals.

Each local school corporation must develop a rubric, tool and plan for performance evaluations based on guidelines; such as evaluations need to be annual and evaluations must be significantly informed by objective measures of student achievement or growth.

Local school corporations would decide how they choose to measure student performance and growth. The State Board would develop a menu of options for schools to choose from to meet this requirement. Standardized tests would not be a required component for a teacher's evaluation, but rather be one of many options. The decision would ultimately be left up to the local school corporation.

Once evaluations were created and implemented, school leaders could use them to reward teachers with promotions and salary increases.

Legislation would allow local leaders more flexibility in determining how to pay education professionals. The bill removes the current state salary schedule, increment provisions and degrees held language from statute. However, the proposal does not cut salaries, so no one loses what they currently have; increases are just no longer guaranteed.

Senate Bill 575 grants more flexibility and authority to local school corporations.This legislation would allow leaders in our schools the ability to hire the teachers that will best meet the needs of that school and not be forced to hire and fire teachers based solely on seniority and degrees held.

While both Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 575 still need some vetting in the legislative process to have me fully on board, I do agree with the premise and intention of them and will work hard to improve upon these bills.

We must pass legislation that allows students to choose the environment where they will best be able to grow. House Bill 1002 enables charter schools to prosper by removing many of the barriers that have prohibited charter school expansion. Charter schools simply provide more opportunities for children.

My support for this bill is deeply rooted in my desire to give the most disadvantaged children in our state the opportunity to choose the educational environment that best meets their needs. We are lucky in Southern Indiana to have school corporations that work in harmony with charter, private and parochial schools.

I want to point to two public charter schools in Evansville, Joshua Academy and Signature School. Neither of these schools has damaged public education or created a negative effect on our community. On the contrary, both of these charter schools have contributed significantly to the betterment of the community and have provided significant opportunities for the youth in our region.

I want to emphasize that charter schools are public schools, which will employ public school teachers. Without this bill, I feel we would have significantly undermined the mission of educating all Indiana youth. I feel it is our mission to give students the vehicles they need to be successful. This bill gives all students the chance to succeed regardless of the circumstances they have been given.

It is my mission to see us provide all Indiana youth with high quality education that will serve them throughout their life.

The time has come for comprehensive education reform and Indiana is leading the way. It is disappointing to see the true intention of these bills lost in rhetoric, but I firmly believe that these efforts are the right choice for our state and put kids first.