Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Revolutionizing education, Hoosier-style School reform measures expand choices for parents and kids

Sounds like Indiana is getting it right. The focus should be on the students and not the teachers and their unions needs. Hopefully the rules changes, vouchers and tax incentives will create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and will finally give the school administrations the ability to enforce an environment that will provide students the security they need to function.

States are a lot like stores. In both, top-level decision-making can influence whether they attract business or lose it. Understanding this, Indiana is upgrading one of its key “products,” which too often collects only dust on other states’ shelves.

This year, Indiana lawmakers made dramatic improvements to the state’s K-12 education system to empower teachers and principals, put students on a path to success, use taxpayer money more effectively and provide families with new schooling options.

One of those acts reformed collective bargaining so that only school employees’ wages and benefits can be negotiated. No more will school leaders be hamstrung by such inane contractual provisions as “faculty meetings are limited to one per month.” If principals and teachers are held accountable for school performance, it is only right to let them run those schools as they see fit.

Also, “last in, first out” was ended. Now, if teacher layoffs occur, the “last in” and oftentimes younger faculty - some of whom might be great teachers - won’t be indiscriminately fired first. Rather, they (and their principals) will be measured, compensated and retained based heavily on student learning and growth. If poor-performing schools can’t improve after five years, Indiana’s Department of Education can hire private firms to turn them around.

In addition, Indiana lawmakers created a statewide entity to authorize charter schools and lifted the cap on the number of students wanting to attend online schools - both public services. Now, Hoosiers who find traditional public schools unsuitable, will have more educational options from which to choose.

Private schools also play an important role in serving families; however, those schools typically are accessible only to parents who can afford them. In response, Indiana enacted what will be the nation’s largest school-voucher program, making nearly 60 percent of Hoosiers currently in public schools eligible for vouchers that can be used to cover private-school tuition. Passing such a large program was historic because now middle-class families will qualify for vouchers, too. Political concessions kept it from being 100 percent.

Parents already sending their kids to private schools without vouchers - while paying taxes for public schools they’re not using - will be able to receive a $1,000 tax deduction for tuition and other educational accessories. Home-school families will be eligible as well.

Recognizing that tuition also can be a burden in higher education, Indiana state leaders passed a measure allowing Hoosiers to leave high school early and use part of their senior-year public funding for public and private colleges. Why hold kids back if they’re ready to learn more and move on? That will give teachers more time to assist struggling children.

Finally, lawmakers ensured that tax dollars for education reach their intended purpose, i.e. funding students. Through something called the “de-ghoster,” Indiana school districts with declining enrollments were receiving temporary funds to ease the loss of students who weren’t even there. That would be like giving Target money for every customer it loses to Wal-Mart. It is costly and unnecessary, so lawmakers eliminated it.

Read full Washington Times article here.

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