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Indiana panels OK teacher merit pay, voucher bills

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Two pieces of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education plan, a voucher plan that would direct taxpayer money to private schools and a merit pay bill that links teacher pay to student performance, cleared key legislative hurdles Wednesday.

The GOP-ruled Senate Education Committee voted 7-3 along party lines to advance the voucher bill to the full Senate. The bill would use state money to give scholarships to parents who meet income guidelines and want to move their children from public to private schools. Supporters say the bill would give working-class families more education options, while opponents say the vouchers suck money away from public schools and are an attack on traditional public education.

The bill is the most contentious of Daniels' aggressive education agenda and would make Indiana stand out among states with similar programs. Until now, most voucher programs in the U.S. have been limited to poor students, those in chronically failing schools or those with special needs. Indiana's proposal would be open to a much larger pool of students, offering money to students from middle-class homes and solid school districts.

The proposal would use a sliding scale to determine the amount of scholarships, with families of four making up to about $60,000 a year eligible for some amount of help. The program would be limited at first to 7,500 students the first year and 15,000 the second, but within three years there would be no limits on the number of children who could enroll.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican who supports Daniels' proposals, said every child deserves a high-quality school, regardless of where they live or their family's wealth.

"This bill gives parents a voice, and it gives students a choice," Bennett said in a statement Wednesday.

The money for the vouchers will come from the public schools that the students would have otherwise attended had they not moved to private schools. Critics say vouchers erode public schools by removing students and their funding, and argue they blur the line between church and state.

The Senate Education Committee made several changes to the bill before advancing it with little discussion, including one that would prohibit private schools that participate in the program from discriminating based on race and other factors, and another aimed at allowing religious schools to continue teaching subjects with a religious approach if they choose.

Also Wednesday, the Republican-led House Education Committee voted 8-5 along party lines to advance Daniels' merit pay proposal. That bill requires teachers to be evaluated every year, and those who fall into the lowest two of four evaluation categories wouldn't get automatic pay raises. Local districts would create their own evaluation systems but would have to include objective measures of student achievement such as scores on statewide standardized tests.

Under the bill, which now moves to the full House for consideration, a school district couldn't place a student for more than one year with teachers rated ineffective, the lowest of the four evaluation categories created by the proposal. If school staffing makes it impossible to assign another teacher, schools would have to send a note home with parents letting them know their child will have an ineffective one for a second year in a row.

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  • Yes, what about the Home-schoolers
    I too would like to know what about the home-schoolers? I am also a parent who last year removed my kids from the public school system as they are both special needs students. Their needs were not being met in the public school system so I pulled them out to meet their needs myself. I also am a taxpayer who's tax dollars are going to a school district who last year either fired or retired 18 teachers because they were not doing their job. Hooray!! But why should'nt we get paid as we are doing their job.
  • Choice
    "Based on where families live, they have no choice about what public school their student attends."

    This is not totally true, some districts do give families a choice as to what school their child can attend in the district. Maybe part of the solution would be to require all districts to operate this way, or to allow districts to accept students from other districts? I like that idea.
  • Separation of Church and State
    Really? You're worried about the blurring of the lines between the Church and the State? Here's the thing, from everything discussed, this voucher program is being set up as tuition assistance for kids to attend private schools. Based on where families live, they have no choice about what public school their student attends. By using this program, the family now has the choice to send their student to a school of their choice. Odds are, if that student is being sent to a Catholic school, the family knows that and is expecting the student to be taught based on the existing curriculum at their new school.

    I'm more concerned about the bit where teachers are going to be paid based on how their students perform on standardized tests. What if the teacher is teaching a course that has no standardized test like music or art? Are these teachers going to be exempted from this evaluation, or are they going to be pidgeon-holed into the "under achieving" category or burried in mediocraty?
    • Taxes
      Adam the home-schooler's comments are just so typical of the 'me' generation.

      Adam, EVERYONE who does not have a child in public schools pays to support public schools. This includes single people, childless couples, and senior citizens. The reason we do this is so that the majority of us have some sort of education and are not running around unemployed living on welfare or commiting crimes.

      Because ALL of us pay taxes, YOU have a choice to educate your child without paying tuition or the expenses you describe.

      IF you CHOOSE to take your child out of public schools, rather than stay and HELP WORK TO MAKE THEM BETTER, then that is YOUR CHOICE (and the consequence of YOUR CHOICE is that you forego the benefit of your tax dollars).

      Taxes are NOT a personal investment, people! They are an investment in our quality of life, and in the well-being of our community, our state and our country.
    • Re: Chris
      Chris: The money for the vouchers which you elude to as being a "blurring of lines between church and state" belongs to the tax payer. It is the taxpayer's money and they now have an option of where to spend it. They can leave it alone and use a public school, or they can elect to spend it somewhere else where they feel most beneficial for their children.

      So many people don't understand this basic point. I wish I had more say regarding where my federal money was spent. I'd use mine to bail out the ridiculous entitlement programs which are under water and a huge part of our deficiet problem... and for the military. None of my money would go to NPR, Planned Parenthood, wind farm or solar subsidies, farmers who don't plant crops themselves, or any one of a thousand other obsurd programs. I certainly wouldn't provide funding for all of the federal workers doing below average work to receive a pension. That's ridiculous.
    • Diversity of Public Education
      Seems to be a huge disconnect between public education in public schools and perception of the quality of education in a local public school. The best school in Central Indiana is in somebodyâ??s neighborhood.

      Charter schools seem to focus on certain academic or learning styles or behaviors and SEGREGATE children. Private schools SEGREGATE children based on religion or socio-economic issues. Public schools bring together and acknowledge the DIVERSITY of children, families, socio-economic issues, learning styles and teach children how to get along with people different from themselves.

      To avoid liberal or conservative social engineering have neighborhood schools attended by children who live in the neighborhood. Put money divided out of the general education fund for vouchers, school buses requiring gas and drivers, into good neighborhood schools. Children will have friends in school that they can play with after school without parent creating â??play dates.â?? Children will get more natural exercise and fresh air walking to school. Parents will know their childrenâ??s teachers, their childrenâ??s friends, and the parents of their friends. These are the kinds of things that create better schools and reduce juvenile crime.

      Private schools should not be supported by any tax dollars. A better system of balancing education tax dollars more equally across the state in areas more economically challenged is needed. NO TAX DOLLARS FOR ANY PRIVATE SCHOOL OR HOME SCHOOL â?? EVER.
    • Clarifications
      Don't worry about the "blurring" of church and state:

      First, the money goes to the parents, who choose the school. Nobody says they have to choose a religious one.

      Second, not all private schools are faith based.

      Third, of those that are faith based, most are more academically rigorous than public schools, so any religious component is a small part of a much larger educational effort.

      Fourth, just because a school is faith based doesn't mean the faculty and staff are "conservatives" who are religious fanatics out there trying to "brainwash" the students. Want proof? My oldest kid graduated from a private, faith based (Catholic) high school. He couldn't care less about organized religion. My daughter went there one year and she's an agnostic.

      Fifth, maybe some who qualify want a faith-based school.

      Some private, faith based schools are actually quite liberal. You might be surprised by what you will find at a Quaker school.
    • Unintended Consequences
      I am concerned about the blurring of lines between church and state. I'm guessing that many conservatives voting for this are actually looking forward to that byproduct of this bill. It's probably all good as long as Christian Schools rule the landscape. However, what is to stop insitutions with what may be percieved as more radical leanings from opening their own priviate school, and recieving a cut of this funding? A somewhat radical school in the inner city that caters to African Americans? A Muslim School? The posiblities seem endless. How about a school that teaches everything in Spanish? That would really set them off.
    • every child quote
      This bill sets a limit of how many students can receive the voucher (7,500 1st year, 15,000 the 2nd).
      How can Mr. Bennett state "every child deserves a high-quality school, regardless of where they live or their family's wealth"

      I'm thinking the children after 7,500 (and 15,000 2nd year) may be the most needy and/or deserving, but because of an arbitrary limit, will not get the assistance to attend that "high quality school" he/she deserves as proprosed by this bill.
      Yes, by the third year there is no limit, but to those kids in the first two years who missed the cut because of the arbitrary limit, the damage has already been done.
    • Charter Schools are not Private Schools
      I would just like to clarify to folfs who seem to keep getting this confused. Charter schools are NOT private schools. They are public schools, that receive tax dollars, and that are open to all students at no-cost. Vouchers are NOT for charter schools.

      Vouchers are to pay for private, tuition-based schooling. This includes any school that charges a tuition fee for the education it provides. Many of them are religious, yet others are not. They are, however, often expensive (if they are any good). They will be taking funding from the public schools...that is not in doubt. What I want to know is what standards will be hold the children who attend these private schools education to? In public schools, they have to take standardized tests, and school are evaluated as good or failing based on AYP. What are these private schools measured on and how do we taxe payers know that our tax dollars are going to schools that are making a difference in education, versus just being a different school. I am worried that this will be a driver for kids who are performing well at good schools to go ahead and bail out to private schools...just because. I wish our polititians would attack the real issues in our public schools and address them instead of continuing to put band-aids on a major bleed...expecting it to work out.

      And, where, might I ask does this leave the rights of children with disabilities? Who is going to make these public schools take those children and educate them too? Or is that one of the points of this voucher system too?

      I think, if we are going to take this path, then homeschool parents should get vouchers too. Then they don't have to spend their own money to buy the materials, books and supplies they need to teach their kids at home. I'm guessing no one will go for that though.
    • what about us?
      how about us home-schoolers? my kids don't use public education at all, but i'm still forced by the government to pay over $1000 a year out of my property taxes to the public school system. where's my choice? i feel like i'm being stolen from!
      • Tired
        I'm tired of the complaint about the money for charter schools. Most charter schools would be in the same urban areas where schools are going to face a need for expansion and be fighting to keep smaller class sizes. Although this does not help immensely it will allow for some students who feel lost in the crowd to transfer to a smaller school where they may learn better. Opposed to my original thoughts I actually like this plan. I also believe that if a community wants to have better education than they currently have then they should throw some more of their own money into the schools. Schools are investments and not an expense...

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