Gov. Mike Pence has his eye on improving education in Indiana by expanding charter schools and creating a pre-kindergarten voucher program for low-income families.
He said there already are signs of progress statewide in education, pointing to sharp gains by Indiana students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a closely watched test that gauges fourth- and eighth-graders’ progress in math and reading skills.
Indiana showed the second-best improvement in the country this year, behind only Tennessee.
“We have real momentum,” the governor said.
Pence said he wants a special state council to do an inventory of unused or under-utilized school facilities and make a recommendation by July 1 on the best financing and legal framework to put them to use. He said the buildings could house fresh, innovative school programs or new charter schools.
“I am just very interested in increasing the supply and opportunities for educational innovation in the state,” he said. “I’d like to develop a framework to essentially take these buildings out of mothballs. I’ve said many times that I think there’s nothing that ails education that can’t be fixed if you give parents more choices and teachers more freedom to teach.
“In Chicago, they’ve got some schools where the first floor is a traditional public school, and the second floor is a charter. It’s all about wanting to create an environment of innovation,” he said.
The Indiana State Teachers Association, a union affiliated with the National Education Association, already has criticized much of Pence’s education agenda.
“We’re in complete support of innovation in public education, but there is no innovation in Pence’s simplistic education road map. It’s just the same old, warmed-up proposals,” the group said in a news release.
“Pence claims he wants to ensure that all children in Indiana are learning, but his road map (shows) obvious favoritism toward corporate charter schools,” the group said.
The teachers group also blasted Pence’s idea to give pay stipends to teachers who take jobs in disadvantaged schools.
“After proposing a $1 billion business tax cut that will devastate Indiana’s already-cash strapped public schools, he offers no plans to pay for any of his education plans,” the group said.
“(He) ignores the complexities of placing and keeping good teachers in high-poverty schools. Research clearly shows that providing financial incentives to teachers just isn’t enough. Teachers are attracted to and stay in schools where they receive support from school leaders and colleagues and receive adequate resources to do their jobs.”