INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels released more details of
his Indiana education agenda Wednesday, but said he’s still working on
specifics of some proposals, including using state money to help students
attend private schools and giving them college scholarships if they graduate
high school a year early.
Daniels and Republican State Superintendent Tony Bennett pitched their ideas
to Indiana’s Education Roundtable on Wednesday. They told the group of
education and business leaders that teachers should be evaluated based on
student performance and said the early graduation scholarship could help
some families. Roundtable members generally agreed with the proposals,
though many raised questions about how they would work.
“The devil’s in the details,” said Fort Wayne Community Schools
Superintendent Wendy Robinson.
Daniels acknowledged after the meeting that the issues are complex and that
the details haven’t been finalized yet. But he said that was no reason to
shelve the proposals.
“The fact that it’s complicated cannot be an excuse for inaction that fails
our children,” Daniels said. “The fact that it won’t be perfect, because it
won’t, will not be an excuse for inaction.”
Daniels and Bennett didn’t mention controversial private school vouchers
until talking with reporters after the Roundtable meeting. Daniels said his
agenda will include a bill to allow state money to go to private schools to
help low-income students attend. He said he hasn’t firmed up details,
including what income level would be required to qualify for vouchers.
Democrats and public school advocates have opposed vouchers in the past,
saying they erode public schools by sending state funds outside the system.
But Republicans, who now control both the House and Senate, have said that
students who don’t come from wealthy families should have the same
opportunity to attend private schools as those who do.
Daniels said he didn’t discuss his voucher proposal in the Roundtable
meeting because he wanted to focus on two key aspects of his education
agenda: the early graduation scholarship and changing the way teachers are
evaluated and compensated.
Bennett and Daniels said teachers should be evaluated and rewarded using
student academic achievement, not simply seniority. They said local school
districts should be free to set their own evaluation and pay measures, but
that the state should set some guidelines. Bennett said he hopes student
achievement counts for at least half of a teacher’s evaluation.
Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association,
said teachers are concerned about some of the proposed changes and want to
make sure evaluations are fair and consistent. The Roundtable endorsed a
resolution saying that teacher evaluations and pay should include student
academic achievement as well as content knowledge, instructional skill and
The group also endorsed a resolution saying Indiana should allow students to
graduate a year early to pursue college, and that the state money that would
have gone to their high school during senior year should instead be used to
offset college costs. However, several Roundtable members raised questions
about the proposal and abstained from voting on the resolution.
Some said giving students scholarships if they graduate early could spur
some of those taking advanced placement or dual credit classes in high
school to choose a head start on college instead. They said having fewer
students in those classes would make it difficult for high schools to
continue offering them.
Others wondered if only students from poor families should qualify, and
whether students as young as 16 were mature enough to handle college life.
Daniels said he would leave it up to families to decide whether their
students are mature enough. He said he welcomed other questions and comments
about the early graduation proposal and the rest of the agenda. Bennett and
Daniels said their agenda items would be put into separate legislative bills
during the 2011 session of the General Assembly, which starts Jan. 5,
because the changes could be too complex to handle in one bill.
Schnellenberger said teachers want to be a part of the process.
“There’s a lot of teachers who have a lot of good ideas,” he said. “The
concern is that things will be on the fast track and they won’t have the
opportunity to have their concerns listened to.”
Republican education committee chairmen in the House and Senate pledged to
gather input from everyone involved in hearings on the proposals.