Indiana Governor Discusses ‘Breakthrough’ K-12 Education Reforms

Published May 18, 2011

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) explained his state’s education “breakthrough” for a Washington, DC audience, saying he had signed legislation to “end discrimination against charters” and greatly expand school choice for Hoosiers in the next three years.

Daniels spoke to the American Enterprise Institute in May, just a few days after the Indiana state legislature concluded its spring session. Daniels joined other Republican governors, including Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in linking education and economic advancement.

“Those who make changes in this particular area of policy and public life do have to be prepared for some mornings you’d rather not get up,” Daniels told a standing-room-only crowd.

Expanded Charters, Reformed Tenure
In a flurry of bills approved in the waning days of the session, Indiana lawmakers created the largest voucher program in the nation, expanded charter school authorization, tied teacher pay and retention to a new evaluation system, limited collective bargaining to wages and benefits, and allowed high school seniors to receive a voucher for college tuition if they graduate a year early.

The only measure that failed to reach approval was a bill establishing a Parent Trigger law empowering parents of children at a failing school to petition for specific reforms.

Daniels emphasized the state’s sweeping reforms resulted from decades of work by reform advocates.

“Everything must be framed from the standpoint of the child,” he explained. “Too many people approach it from the standpoint of ‘the system.’

“You cannot often enough affirm your commitment to the public schools,” he added, continuing his response to a question asking advice for other reform-minded legislators.

“Ninety percent of Indiana kids are in public schools today. It will always be close to that. And therefore there’s a huge responsibility, and we should all share a commitment, to make public schools better all the time,” he said.

Bargaining ‘Has Its Place’
The bills passed at the end of a a stormy legislative session in which labor union supporters surrounded the Capitol protesting for days, and 38 House Democrats left the state for five weeks to prevent quorum and protest the majority Republicans’ labor and education agendas. The Democrats finally returned in April for a hurried close to the session.

In responding to School Reform News after his speech, Daniels said he faced the most resistance on tying teacher pay to performance and student test results instead of seniority.

“Collective bargaining has its place,” Daniels said. “Always will.”

On the last day of Indiana’s legislative session, a Republican state senator inserted language into a conference report giving school districts a veto over parents’ petitions to convert a failing public school into an independent charter school. The move surprised and angered House Republicans.

Daniels hadn’t heard about the last-minute machinations. “If [the bill] picked up encumbrances that made it less direct than we wanted, I’ll be disappointed by that,” he said. “But it’s an important principle, and we argued for it.”

Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

Internet Info:
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ speech and Q&A with the American Enterprise Institute: