Gov. Daniels pushes Indiana education reforms

January 28, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Ind. Gov. Mitch Daniels listens to a group of students at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, Indiana on Thursday.

It’s been less than a month since Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in his State of the State address that he wanted to move forward on a number of reforms to improve public education.

He wasn’t kidding.

Already, Daniels is working with the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to implement those reforms. 

Chief among them is the alteration of collective bargaining powers held by public school teachers.  A bill that’s already passed a Senate committee would remove working conditions and teacher evaluations from contract talks. The bill’s supporters hope to restrict bargaining agreements between teachers unions and schools to salaries and benefits.

Daniels spent Thursday morning visiting a charter school in Gary, Indiana. There he met with instructors and students. Daniels later told reporters that teachers shouldn’t be allowed to bargain over the color of a teachers’ lounge or how long breaks should be.

Democrats accuse Daniels of simply trying to break the backs of unions. He scoffed at that accusation.

“This is just a tired, groundless charge that is brought up by people who apparently have no real arguments to make. The legislation down there absolutely contemplates the continuation of unions and collective bargaining,” Daniels said. “The first interest in public education in this state is going to be the kids. It’s not going to be the unions and it’s not going to be grownups in the system.”

Another change Daniels wants is to free up more state money to allow more school districts and even universities to set up charter schools.  Daniels said charter schools, which are free from some of the restrictions placed on traditional public schools, are flourishing even in troubled school districts, such as the one he visited in Gary.

He visited Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, a two-year-old high school on Gary’s far West Side that was developed by Ball State University in Muncie..

“We would never give up on a single child, and we will never give up on a single neighborhood or a single school,” Daniels said. “Great education can happen anywhere and when you see it happening to level of quality in Gary it will make an impression on people elsewhere.”

Daniels toured the building and spoke with administrators and students.  One student asked about Daniels’ presidential aspirations. Daniels said he’s not ready to say whether he’ll seek the Republican nomination for president, but added he may set a deadline to do just that.