The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 01, 2016 10:00 pm

Schooling lawmakers

There’s little Indiana lawmakers could do to further marginalize teacher unions, although some believe they’ve found a tool.

 But Senate Bill 10 might be just what the struggling associations need to remind teachers of the value of collective bargaining. It gives superintendents the authority to pay some educators more than others, as they did in the days when some school chiefs paid male teachers more than their female colleagues or when a board member could insist on extra pay for a daughter-in-law. There’s no provision to limit the extra pay to teachers in hard-to-fill disciplines like math or special education.

Arbitrary compensation systems and other unfair management practices gave rise to Indiana’s collective bargaining law in 1973. A return to those practices will mobilize teachers in numbers the bill’s supporters can’t imagine. 

Brownsburg Superintendent Jim Snapp pointed out the obvious in testimony Monday: The bill carries no extra dollars for teacher pay, so a raise for one teacher will have to come out of others’ pay or from programming.

Senate leaders realized the legislation was troublesome and killed the final House version. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the intent was "misperceived."

"The last thing we want is for teachers to think we are trying to be unfair to them in salary structure or create a situation where some can be paid a lot more than others just by the whim of the superintendent," Long said last week.

Rep. Robert Behning, the House GOP caucus’ point man on education, wasn’t about to let it die, however. The original version of House Bill 1004, which included much of the same language, and SB 10 had been approved by both chambers. Legislative rules allowed the House Education Committee to resurrect SB 10 by passing it without any changes, which it did by a 7-4 party-line vote Monday. It goes to the full House now.

If it passes, the ill effects will surface first in Indiana’s small, rural districts. The bill allows superintendents and school board members to decide in a closed-door session to give extra pay to certain teachers. In a small community, it won’t take long to figure out who is earning more. 

If lawmakers support SB 10 and Gov. Mike Pence signs it into law, they will breathe new life and purpose into Indiana’s teacher unions.

Voucher expansion

The same anti-union political interests are pushing SB 334, which opens a new spring-semester door to taxpayer-supported tuition at private and parochial schools. The voucher expansion was sold as a resource for keeping dropouts in school, but the bill makes no mention of dropouts. 

Taxpayers supported about 29,000 voucher students last year, at a cost of about $116 million. This year’s cost isn’t yet known, but voucher participation increased by 13 percent for 2015-16.

That’s without SB 334’s provision to approve more vouchers in the middle of each school year.

If the House approves the bill, it faces another vote in the Senate. It’s possible to help students at risk of dropping out without requiring taxpayers to pick up even more private tuition costs.

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