Controversial report suggests big changes A new report from the Indiana Government Efficiency Commission suggests sweeping changes in the way schools work in the Hoosier state. The commission hopes to move toward systems that support student achievement, prepare all students for post-secondary education, simplify funding for schools and give autonomy to local school systems.
The Dec. 1 report was part of an overall look at Indiana’s government in terms of general government, Medicaid and human services, higher education and K-12 education.
“The report is 18 months of work by an independent group,” said state Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale).
Espich, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, added that the commission’s study reflects Indiana’s ongoing search for ideas on how a state government should run. Espich and his fellow Republicans are generally happy with the results of the study.
But according to the Indiana State Teachers Association, at least the K-12 education portion of the study is flawed because educators weren’t included in the process.
According to Dan Clark, deputy executive director of ISTA, neither school employees nor their representatives were allowed to serve as members of the sub-committee. “The sub-committee excluded educators to write their own opinions on these subjects,” he said.
The report is simply opinions from independent citizens, Espich said. “Not every idea is valid. Not every idea has merit,” he added.
Clark feels that the K-12 report should have been written in the same way as the higher education report, with inclusion of educators. “I don’t think this report will have much use because it doesn’t form the basis for people to work together,” he said.
ISTA also feels the report leaves many questions unanswered. “The report makes no case for efficiencies,” Clark said. For example, the report stated that ISTEP should be moved to the spring in order to provide summer remediation to students who fail. But according to Clark, it could easily cost over $40 million to provide summer remediation programs.
The report also suggested Indiana eliminate functions that are not directly focused on K-12 students. Programs that could be affected are special programs such as adult education or English as a second language. The report calls for a new approach in these areas and suggests utilizing the state community college system or requesting block grant funding from the federal government.
“Block grant funding is a good thought,” Espich said, noting that Republicans support cafeteria funding by the state, which would let individual school systems decide how to allocate money.
Currently, budgets are divided between items like buildings and transportation, and schools are tied to these individual budgets. “We shouldn’t limit how they spend their money,” Espich added.
But Clark indicated that the commission has made no specific recommendations for these issues. “What would happen if federal funding for these programs fell short?” he wondered.
According to the report, state education expenditures have risen 69 percent over the last 10 years while the student population has only risen 4.2 percent. Also in this period, the report cites expenditures on non-instructional spending growing 96.5 percent as direct instructional spending grew 45.1 percent. Non-instructional spending included things such as facilities and buildings, debt-service and employee benefits.
To address rising employee benefit expenditures, the report proposes statewide bidding for employee benefits and overhaul of collective bargaining. Teachers would receive merit increases and tenure based on performance and continuing education.
But according to Clark, the argument that overhauling collective bargaining would be efficient is just one opinion on the matter. Espich agreed. “I don’t think ending collective bargaining is something the Legislature is likely to embrace.”
For more information about the Indiana Efficiency Commission’s report go to www.in.gov/legislative/interim/committee/geff.html.
For more information on the ISTA perspective on the report go to www.istain.org.