Pence releases education plan light on detail

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence said Friday he'll push forward with changes to Indiana's education system started under Gov. Mitch Daniels in a quietly rolled out education plan that supports expanding the state's school voucher program and improving performance of teachers and students.

The proposal mentions improving graduation rates and establishing a School Leadership Academy for talented educators-in-training — though it offers few details.

The plan offers the first look at Pence's goals for education in a state that has seen vast changes under Daniels, ranging from the nation's broadest school voucher program to a merit-based pay system for teachers and new reading standards for third-graders.

Pence said he supports expanding school choice and believes high-performing teachers should be financially rewarded and enlisted to recruit and train their peers.

"We need high-quality teachers to come alongside their peers to pass on effective learning methods and experience. Just like every successful high school athlete needs a good coach, our teachers, particularly our new teachers, could use good coaches too," the congressman said in a statement.

The Pence campaign quietly released the plan Friday, sending it out via e-mail. Other ideas have been delivered in high-profile speeches, like his proposal to cut the income tax, or in well-advertised press conferences.

Pence staff said Friday that they did not advertise their education proposal as heavily because they are busily preparing for the final weeks of the election. They also declined to provide details about the various ideas included in the education plan.

House Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the Pence campaign briefed lawmakers on the education ideas Thursday and had few details then as well. He said he expects specifics to come later, and cited his work on the 2011 voucher law which had important details being hammered out until just before the bill was introduced.

"Sometimes it's easier to be vague about it and put in more details when you get closer to the time (it's introduced) because it takes time to do the research," he said.

Behning did have some ideas for where Pence might go if elected governor, referring back to ideas lawmakers have been working on. Those could include expanding the pool of students eligible for vouchers and finding money for charter schools to erect school buildings, he said.

"I think he's taking the major steps we made last year and refining them," Behning said.

Many of the plan's ideas aren't new or are short on specifics.

Pence calls for enhancing new reading standards for third-graders and working to boost math and reading skills. Those have been priorities under Daniels' administration.

He also wants to set a benchmark for math proficiency and pay schools that score well on the state's standardized ISTEP test, but he's not ready to say what that benchmark should be or how much money higher-achieving schools should get.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg criticized the lack of details in the plan.

"There is only one candidate who has released a concrete plan to improve early childhood education in Indiana and that candidate is John Gregg," Gregg spokesman Daniel Altman said Friday. "Instead of telling us what he will do, all Congressman Pence can offer is generalities."

Gregg has called for a pre-kindergarten education program similar to Wisconsin's and wants to permanently pay for full-day kindergarten in Indiana. State lawmakers approved temporary funding for full-day kindergarten earlier this year.

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