Yesterday, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) signed into law legislation to implement the nation’s largest school voucher program. And this week, the Governor visited Washington, D.C., to highlight his education reform agenda, which is rooted in the belief that those closest to students know them best—a fact which should drive education policy.
In his speech at the American Enterprise Institute May 4, Daniels outlined the four major elements of the state’s education reforms: expanding school choice, increasing school accountability, improving teacher quality, and limiting the stranglehold collective bargaining has had over local schools.
Daniels boldly stated that Indiana will no longer “incarcerate any family’s kid in a school that they don’t believe is working.”
To this end, the Governor has created a voucher program that within three years will be available to approximately 60 percent of Hoosier families. Additionally, the state is expanding its tuition tax credit program, which provides tax credits to corporations that donate money to scholarship-granting organizations. It is also implementing a new policy to provide tax credits to families for a variety of approved educational expenses, such as tuition.
The state’s reforms include increasing accountability to parents and taxpayers by implementing a system that grades schools on an A through F scale, which replaces “the more complicated category names now used to label a school’s performance.” This will provide a simple way for families to gauge how their children’s schools are performing. The new legislation will also require teachers to be tested annually, with results being publicized, to allow parents to know how their child’s teacher is performing.
Also, as Governor Daniels noted, because teacher quality is “the dominant variable” in students’ educational outcomes, no parent will be required to leave a child with an underperforming teacher two years in a row. Similarly, to promote exceptional teaching, teachers will be rewarded for their performance, rather than for their seniority.
Furthermore, Daniels noted that collective bargaining’s power over schools must be limited. He stated:
The principals, the school boards, the superintendents that we are determined to hold accountable for student growth, have been hamstrung…in a myriad of ways…from the contracts that their school boards have signed with local teachers unions.
Indiana’s new legislation would limit collective bargaining to wages and benefits, no longer allowing unions to dictate everything from the color of paint in a school to how frequently a principal can meet with a teacher.
Such reforms, which put power into the hands of parents and those at the local level, are the way to best ensure that the needs of students are met. And if the results of similar education reforms implemented in Florida more than a decade ago are any indication of what lies ahead for Indiana students, these children have a bright academic future ahead of them.
Despite Indiana’s promising state-led reforms, Governor Daniels also expressed his support for national academic standards. Unfortunately, such standards are in direct opposition to the very reforms being implemented by Daniels, because they cede control to federal bureaucrats in Washington to decide what is taught in classrooms. Additionally, national standards would likely lead to the standardization of mediocrity rather than establishing standards of excellence.
National standards have quickly become a focal point of the Obama Administration’s education plan, with federal dollars being tied to whether a state agrees to adopt them. Such heavy-handed involvement by Washington silences the voices of parents and local leaders and is a clear overreach of federal power in education.
Indiana is leading the way to improved education with innovative and bold reforms. Yet Indiana and other states must be careful to guard against federal intervention that would come with policies such as national standards. Ensuring that the control of education remains in the hands of those closest to the student, through reforms just like Indiana’s, is the way to a bright future for education in America.