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Teacher-pay bill dies on sidelines in Indiana House

March 3, 2016

Indiana House lawmakers on Thursday effectively killed a proposal that would have diminished the power of teachers unions amid an intense backlash from labor leaders and opposition from within the GOP.

The bill, which would have given school superintendents the power to negotiate pay with some teachers without approval from unions, was scheduled for a vote ahead of a Thursday deadline to keep bills alive. But lawmakers called it quits for the day without taking the measure up, ending its chances of passage this legislative session.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said "misinformation" about the legislation fomented the backlash and House GOP leaders determined "it wasn't worth the effort" of putting it up for a vote. A similar measure died in the Senate last week and, over the weekend, teachers unions targeted individual House lawmakers on social media, urging them to vote against it.

"It was very emotional for some teachers, I think, because they were reacting to misinformation," said Bosma, adding that Gov. Mike Pence "expressed reservations" about it, too.

The measure was one of several ideas lawmakers considered to address potential teacher shortages. The number of first-time teaching licenses issued by the state Department of Education has declined by 33 percent over the past five years, and some districts have reported difficulties in finding good candidates in certain subjects.

Supporters say the bill would give school districts flexibility in hiring people for tough-to-fill classroom vacancies, especially in high-level science, math and technology areas.

But the bill also posed an election-year liability for Republicans who have come under increased scrutiny for pushing through education overhaul measures in recent years. Opponents, including unions and some school administrators, say benefits should be negotiated through collective bargaining. And they argue many districts have a limited pool of money, which means those who are paid more could take away from resources available for all teachers.

Earlier Thursday, GOP Senate Leader David Long said the Republican-dominated Legislature is being wrongly perceived as "anti-teacher" and needed to take a "step back" to repair that frayed relationship.

"There are some good ideas in that bill. But it's gotten to the point where the teaching community doesn't support it," said Long, who blamed teachers unions for mischaracterizing the measure. "I think we need to have buy-in by the education profession of these ideas in order to move them forward."

He also said that former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett did the party no favors when he "flunked charm school" by aggressively pushing education overhauls before he lost his 2012 re-election bid.

Rep. Tony Cook, a former Cicero school administrator who sponsored the bill in the House, said Republicans have not received enough credit for the good things they have done for teachers in recent years, including raising teacher pay.

"We want to support teachers. They are valued. They are important to us," Cook said before adding: "Can we do better? Yes. That's my mission."

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