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Column: Open dialogue with teachers leads to better state policy

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Recently, state Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, and I met with Johnson County teachers at Whiteland Community High School. Teachers from all over the district attended, and I was very pleased with the turnout.

It’s no surprise that teachers are very well represented at the Statehouse through various organizations like the Indiana State Teachers Association or the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, but it is also important for legislators to have a relationship with the educators in their district.

For this reason, I always welcome meeting and having discussions with local teachers, administrators and parents. It’s critical to have an open dialogue with educators to make sure sound policy is being enacted and that we are on the right path to strengthen Indiana’s education system.


I came into this meeting knowing full well that we would not agree on all of the issues; but when education bills come before the House, the input of local teachers is crucial in my decision making.

Education makes up the majority of the state budget, with 58 percent being allocated to K-12 and higher education. According to the 2010 State Expenditure Report from the National Association of State Budget Officers, Indiana ranked No. 1 among all states in the percentage of general fund expenditures dedicated to K-12 education in fiscal year 2010.

The first concern raised was regarding the expansion of the Choice Scholarship Program under House Bill 1003 and how we came up with the money to fund such an expansion.

The bill expands Choice Scholarship eligibility to include children with disabilities requiring special education, foster care families, active duty military and veterans, and siblings within 200 percent of free and reduced lunch. It also allows children enrolling in kindergarten to be eligible for a scholarship if they meet the income guidelines.

The cost of providing a scholarship for a student in a school choice program is almost always less than what would have been spent on that student if he or she had remained in a traditional public school. The average public school in Indiana spends about $10,000 per student, while the average private school charges about $6,000 in tuition.

School choice policies actually save the state money. As it stands, only wealthier parents have the option to choose which school best fits the needs of their children. Expanding these scholarships will provide much needed opportunities to lower income families.

Another concern that I hear about is the state’s perception of teachers, in that the Legislature doesn’t believe teachers are doing an adequate job; or that many of them are simply bad teachers. I myself have never said that nor have I ever heard any of my colleagues express that feeling. It takes a very special person to become a teacher, someone who selflessly devotes their time and energy to educating the future leaders of Indiana. This can never be said enough.

I want to stress that the Choice Scholarship Program is not about bad teachers and good teachers. It is simply about a changing social environment and the growing awareness that some students excel more in different environments.

In the House education committee, we heard testimony from a student who had contemplated suicide as a result of social media

bullying. This particular student transferred to a private school and feels much more comfortable in her new environment. She is performing at a much higher academic level as well.

There were many more concerns raised, but for the purpose of brevity, the last one I would like to address is House Bill 1357. This bill allows school boards to hire a superintendent that does not hold a teacher’s or superintendent’s license. It also repeals the requirement that a county superintendent of schools must have five years of successful teaching experience and hold a superintendent’s license. Many expressed frustration that they are not treated as professionals and see this move as another step to turn schools into businesses.

I understand these concerns; however, I stand by my vote in favor of this bill. The bill simply gives school boards the option to choose such candidates. It does not make anything mandatory but instead provides flexibility, which will enhance local control to communities and corporations. Different school corporations have different needs, and I believe this gives them more power to determine those needs without the interference of the state government.

My purpose in this column is to give the public the opportunity to see the viewpoint of teachers, those who work on the front lines to educate Hoosier children. I want to thank everyone who attended for taking time out of their busy lives to sit down with us for a couple of hours.

They shared a lot of important information, and I hope that this line of communication between us and the teachers continues to remain open. I look forward to continuing these discussions throughout session.

Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, represents District 58 in the Indiana House of Representatives. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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