Bill on teacher union rights heads to governor

A bill to restrict Indiana teachers' collective bargaining rights has cleared its final legislative hurdle, becoming the first part of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education agenda to make it to the governor's desk.

The GOP-led Indiana Senate voted 30-19 Tuesday in favor of a House-passed version of the bill, which would prohibit contracts between school districts and teachers unions from including anything other than wages and wage-related benefits.

The limits would affect contract agreements between districts and unions for teachers and any other school employees, such as bus drivers, custodians and nurses, starting July 1. Contracts reached before July 1 couldn't extend beyond June 2013.

Supporters of the proposal argue that teacher contracts shouldn't include details that do little to improve academics, such as requiring comfortable teachers' lounges. Daniels has pushed for the bill, saying in his State of the State address that collective bargaining agreements go too far.

Opponents — including the Indiana State Teachers Association — point out that the contracts are negotiated locally. They say school district leaders should have the power to agree to the contract provisions they want.

The Republican-controlled House had previously voted for the proposal, which now heads to Daniels for his signature.

Other big pieces of Daniels' aggressive education agenda face key votes this week.

Daniels also wants to:

— Create the nation's most expansive voucher program directing taxpayer money to private schools. The bill could get a Senate vote as early as Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Senate amended the bill to address concerns from Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford. Steele has said he doesn't want tax money to religious schools, saying some Muslim schools teach extremism. The amended bill states that private schools participating in the voucher program — along with public schools — shall not "teach the violent overthrow of the government of the United States." The Senate also included in the bill a tax deduction of $1,000 per child for parents who home-school their children or send them to private schools.

— Expand charter schools. A version of that bill has passed both the House and Senate. House leaders are now determining whether to agree to the Senate version or try to hammer out a compromise.

— Implement merit pay for teachers by requiring student achievement to account for part of teacher evaluations. That bill could get a House as early as Wednesday.

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