Proposals on teacher pay, scholarships back from dead

The state legislature on Wednesday brought back to life all or part of two education bills that had pretty much been given up for dead.

With just one day left in a legislative session that leaders hope to wrap Thursday, the measures—a controversial effort to let school districts pay some teachers more than others and a popular program to help future teachers pay for college—re-emerged during a process used to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of bills.

The scholarship bill—House Bill 1002—aims to recruit more teachers to Indiana classrooms to address teaching shortages at some schools across the state.

The bill had broad support in the House but seemed doomed to collapse last month when the Senate Appropriations Committee amended it to remove the scholarship program and replace it with a charge to the Commission for Higher Education to study existing scholarship programs instead.

Although the original bill did not address how the scholarships would be funded, appropriations chairman Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said at the time that the potential cost— which could amount to $15.2 million over the first four years of the program—gave him pause.

The final version of the bill now addresses the funding issue. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who authored the bill, added language that would direct $10.5 million to the scholarship program.

If the bill wins final approval from both chambers and is signed by Gov. Mike Pence, the scholarships would begin in fall 2017.

College students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes or scored in the top 20th percentile on the ACT or SAT tests could apply for $7,500 per year toward four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, came out in support of the current version of the bill, as did former Hamilton Heights superintendent Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero.

“I think it will be successful,” Cook said. “I think the additions make it even stronger and better.”

The teacher pay bill has gotten new life through an unrelated teacher mentoring bill.

The controversial effort to give district superintendents the power to pay some teachers above union-negotiated pay scales has been sidelined twice this year—once by the Senate and once by the House—but the issue keeps returning.

Now a milder version of the concept has resurfaced in House Bill 1005, a teacher mentoring bill that contains a grab bag of education issues, including provisions on vouchers and stipends for teachers who teach college-level classes in high schools known as dual-credit classes.

The teacher pay effort was shot down in both the senate’s version, Senate Bill 10, and the House version, House Bill 1004, after Republican legislative leaders said the bills had become misunderstood.

When it came back in the mentoring bill, it took some lawmakers by surprise.

“I thought we were not going to do supplemental pay outside of collective bargaining this session,” Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said during a House Rules Committee meeting. “All of a sudden, we have this provision in here?”

Specifically, the new language would authorize districts to give extra pay to teachers of Advanced Placement classes that allow students to take tests so they can bypass introductory college courses.

Rep. Bob Behning, House Education Committee chairman, said state law already allows districts to give unbargained supplemental pay to dual-credit teachers, so this bill language is really just a tweak to current law. He said no educators complained to him this year about the existing dual-credit provision.

“AP and dual credit are both college-bound programs, they require more rigor than traditional programs and they’re very important to kids to go to college,” Behning said.

Critics of the extra pay provision, including the state’s teachers unions, have argued it would create conflicts among teachers and award some teachers more money at the expense of everyone, as no new funding was included in the bill for teacher salaries. Supporters say the freedom to determine extra pay would allow districts to attract more teachers to schools that are struggling to fill positions, especially in science, technology, engineering and math positions.

The teacher mentoring bill has also become home to other controversial education ideas this session. Also added to the bill is a proposal to extend the deadline for applications for taxpayer-funded vouchers from Sept. 1 to Jan. 15. The bill passed the full House in a 51-43 final vote. It next heads to the Senate.

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.


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