Education Action Group's Top 10 Indiana Reforms List No Laughing Matter

An email blast sent out Thursday by the Education Action Group (EAG) Foundation highlighted a list of “top 10 education reforms passed by the 2011 Indiana General Assembly.” If you follow this blog at all, you know right off the top what some of the biggies are — including limiting the topics open for teachers union collective bargaining and “the nation’s largest voucher program”. Also known as #1 and #3 on EAG’s list:

1. Limited collective bargaining to wages and benefits only.
2. Ended the union-contrived “last in, first out” practice of laying off teachers with the least seniority first, regardless of teaching ability.  
3. Established the broadest voucher program in the nation by allowing all families in the state earning up to 150 percent of the threshold for free or discounted school lunches to receive a voucher to attend private schools. The vouchers – worth up to $4,500 for elementary students and 90 percent of state tuition support for high schoolers – will be available to 7,500 students the first year and 15,000 in the second. The enrollment cap is lifted in year three.
4. Expanded the state’s charter school law by allowing more charter school authorizers, creating a way for parents to convert failing public schools into charters, and establishing a charter school board to oversee charter authorizers and sponsor new schools. Legislation also established a process for charter schools to buy abandoned public schools.
5. Established a new teacher evaluation system based on student learning and growth, and created a statewide system of paying teachers for performance.
6. Eliminated the cap on the number of students who can attend virtual schools and increased funding for those students.
7. Allowed the Indiana Department of Education to contract with private companies to help turn around the state’s worst public schools after five years of poor performance.
8. Changed the school funding formula to eliminate a “De-ghoster” that sent state funds to declining enrollment districts for up to three years after students leave. The new formula also allows students with enough credits to graduate early and use up to $4,000 in senior year state funding toward higher education. 
9. Used tax incentives to spur investment in education. As part of the voucher bill, lawmakers established a $1,000 tax deduction for families with children already in private schools that can be used toward tuition, books, tutors, computers and other educational expenses. The same legislation doubled the cap on the state’s scholarship tax credit program to $5 million, and allows organizations to grant scholarships to two or more schools.
10. Moved school board elections from the spring to the fall, when they will receive more attention during the general election.

There are some other biggies on the list. But on this Friday, I wanted to turn things around a bit and bring your attention to a couple of the seemingly minor points. Like Indiana’s number 8, Colorado is ripe to reform its school funding system — including the elimination of extra protections for declining enrollment districts by better ensuring dollars follow the student and schools are funded based on performance rather than seat time.

Then there’s number 10. Years ago Colorado moved school board elections from spring to fall, but they still remain in odd-numbered years. Noting that more than half of school board elections nationally occur at a different time than general elections for state and national office, a 2010 Stanford University report finds that teachers’ union influence in these “off-cycle elections” leads to a 3-plus percent increase in teacher pay compared to school boards chosen in “on-cycle elections.”

Thanks to the Flypaper blog’s Peter Meyer for pointing out this “fascinating study”, and breaking down Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ remarks about this overlooked part of his education reform package.

EAG’s top 10 list represents neither a perfect (I have concerns about dictating a statewide performance pay system, as opposed to state leaders providing incentive and technical assistance for local reforms) nor a comprehensive list. But states like Colorado could do a lot worse than use it as a checklist to continue moving forward needed changes to help ensure the most equitable, productive and consumer-friendly public school system possible.

Unlike the famous Top 10 lists famously broadcast by long-time late night TV host David Letterman (who, incidentally, was born and raised in Indiana), these reforms are no laughing matter. Now… where should we start?