As the legislature takes up education reform, both sides of the debate continue making their own arguments.
“We know that the only way to improve education in our state is to really make the reforms we're making, including increasing competition and increasing choice,” Dr. Tony Bennett, superintendent of public instruction, told NewsRadio 960 WSBT Monday.
Reforms include providing parents with vouchers to pay for their children to go to private schools, a broad expansion of charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and limits on teacher union contracts.
"My challenge to the South Bend teachers’ association is get on the train and be part of the trip," said Bennett.
But union leaders say they don’t like where the train is headed.
“The train that Tony Bennett is talking about is the train towards privatization," said Heidi Miller, a spokesperson for the Indiana State Teacher’s Association. Miller said privatization creates questions about transparency and will hurt public schools by taking away funding. Miller also said teacher contracts are not the enemy.
"Certainly it is the union's job to look out for a fair and equitable system for the teachers and employees. That's our job. But that's not done in any way to hurt the students," she said. "You'll find when you look at contracts across Indiana that many of those contracts contain provisions that are beneficial to students,” she said, citing limits on class sizes as an example.
But during his State of the State address, Governor Mitch Daniels championed the reforms, saying students are not helped by some teachers who are too protected by those contracts.
"Today’s teachers make more money not because their students learned more but just by living longer and putting another certificate on the wall. Their jobs are protected not by any record of great teaching, but simply by seniority. We have seen ‘teachers of the year’ laid off just because they weren’t old enough. This must change” Daniels said.
ISTA spokesperson Andy Borrelli said seniority is critical to education.
“That is one of the things seniority brings, is you are putting in time over years, learning from your colleagues, learning from your students, administrators, and every year that you are participating in the process, that makes you a better teacher,” he said.
Bennett said he believes competition can only make Indiana’s public school system better.
"I believe that inserting more competition, more challenging, rigorous, accessible opportunities for all Indiana children will continue to help all of our schools improve," Bennett said.