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GOP-controlled Legislature overhauls K-12 education

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This year saw the most sweeping changes to public education since the approval of teachers’ unions in 1973.

Big Republican majorities in the General Assembly allowed Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett to pass the nation’s most comprehensive package of school reforms.

But not before there were huge rallies and debates over charter schools, the rollback of teachers’ unions’ rights and publicly funded vouchers for private schools.

The reforms restricted teacher collective bargaining contracts to wages and benefits—not to length of school days or other conditions in schools.

And while state law used to stipulate that teacher pay and promotions could be based only on seniority and educational attainment, a new law now limits those factors to just 33 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. The rest of a teacher’s performance—and pay—must be based on a mix of other factors, most notably, an annual ranking of their effectiveness at getting students to learn.

Local districts have leeway to design their own evaluation systems, although the state will issue guidelines next year.

The education reforms also took steps to increase the number of charter schools in Indiana—and even let them hire unlicensed teachers, provided they make up no more than 10 percent of the faculty.

Another bill created what will be the nation’s largest voucher program, giving low-income students taxpayer-funded scholarships to use at private schools. The program has signed up nearly 4,000 students already.

Daniels created and successfully championed early college scholarships, which provide an average of $4,000 to a student who finishes high school in three years and chooses to attend an Indiana college.

Changes to the school funding formula will more quickly shift money away from the school district a student previously attended and toward the district the student currently attends. The change favors fast-growing suburban schools over shrinking urban districts.

Perhaps the biggest change in education came from the delayed implementation of a 1999 law authorizing state intervention in schools whose students scored in the lowest levels on state standardized tests five years in a row.

In August, the State Board of Education decided to take control of five schools, including four that were part of the Indianapolis Public Schools district.•
 

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