By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The Indiana Legislature has been pretty busy when it comes to education reform, a fact that has left many students and teachers in the state wondering just how their lives will be changed in the coming weeks and months.
In an effort to address the legislation, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett made a stop at Goshen High School Thursday afternoon for a informal meeting with local educators.
In his introduction, Bennett was the first to admit that most of the education reform legislation now on the table has not made him very popular among state educators.
"Many of you walked in the door this evening, and I am 100 percent certain, some of you were absolutely certain in your heart that the person that was going to stand in front of you and talk was the person that you were certain was out to destroy public education," Bennett said. "You know what? I will likely not say anything that will change that opinion tonight."
That said, Bennett noted that while this year’s legislation may not be the most popular legislation ever drafted, it is what he feels is necessary to ensure the adequate education of Indiana’s youth.
Bennett provided a quick breakdown of the four major education reform bills currently in play that have been directly influenced by the Bennett administration.
First to be discussed was Senate Bill 575, which will limit teacher’s collective bargaining rights. According to Bennett, this bill was signed into law Wednesday night by Gov. Mitch Daniels, and will take affect July 1.
Next to be discussed was Senate Bill 1, which would put into place a new teacher evaluation system based on student test scores and other factors. Bennett noted that this bill is expected to reach the governor’s office very shortly, and will probably be signed into law as early as next week.
The third bill to be discussed was House Bill 1002, which would allow new charter schools to be established more easily in Indiana. Bennett noted that while this bill has passed the Senate, there has been some dissent in the House, which will require the bill to be heard by Conference Committee before a final vote is taken.
Closing out the bills discussed Thursday was House Bill 1003, which would make vouchers available for low- and middle-income students to leave public schools and attend private schools instead. Bennett noted that HB 1003 successfully passed out of the Senate Thursday morning, and prospects are good that the bill will soon be signed into law.
With nearly all of the major reform bills now passed or soon expected to be so, Bennett encouraged the local educators in the audience Thursday to put aside any lingering doubts they may have regarding the admittedly controversial legislation and instead join him and the Department of Education in their efforts to make implementation of these bills as successful as possible.
"We need to be thinking about what implementation will look like, because the fact is, in most instances... the policy decisions have been made by the General Assembly," Bennett said. "In one week we’re going to move away from the DOE being this policy-driven organization that everyone has taken exception with or has opposed or what have you. On April 29... the policy-driving will be over with. We’re going to have to step out of the policy-driving mode, and we’re going to have to reach out to... the superintendents and principals and teachers in the state and help you out."
Bennett drew a close to the meeting by encouraging those in attendance to remain strong and dedicated as the state moves forward with its ambitious reform plan.
"I think we have the human capital in this state, we have the talent in this state, we have the intelligence in this state, and I think we have the heart in this state among Indiana educators to get the job done," Bennett said. "If we move from policy driving to implementation, we’re going to try to do a better job, we’re going to try to make sure we reach out, and we’re going to try to make sure we uphold the good, the great in this state."