by David Long

When the General Assembly convened in January, I supported the call to make this an “education session.” I’ve been pleased to see the Senate take steps in the first half of the session to make that goal a reality.

This has included passage of legislation to eliminate outdated education regulations, help high school students graduate with a STEM associate degree and promote biliteracy among Indiana students.

But perhaps most importantly, the Senate has advanced two bills – Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 566 – that seek to improve education in Indiana by rewarding our best teachers, reforming standardized testing, and addressing the dysfunction that we’ve seen on the State Board of Education.

SB 1 seeks to improve the effectiveness of the Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) to better serve Hoosier students. As it passed the Senate, SB 1 would reduce the size of the board to nine members and balance the appointments to the board between the governor and the legislature. It requires at least four of the board members to be public school educators and allows the members to choose their own chair, hire their own independent staff, and get assistance from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency when needed.

Given some of the misinformation that has surrounded this bill, it’s also important to note what the bill does not do. SB 1 does not remove the Superintendent of Public Instruction as a board member or even prevent the Superintendent from serving as chair. It does not remove the Superintendent as head of the Department of Education, and it does not make the Superintendent an appointed position in state government.

The unprecedented dysfunction we’ve seen on the board in the past two years is unacceptable. This legislation is an effort to get the board back on track, which is in the best interest of everyone in our state.

SB 566 aims to reward Indiana’s best educators with better pay and streamline student testing by replacing ISTEP+ and I-READ with one testing product. Indiana is already in the process of replacing the current ISTEP+ with a new statewide test that would align with our academic standards. SB 566 would make this switch easier by streamlining Indiana’s testing system. This bill would also make more teachers eligible for School Performance Grant bonuses and would allow local school boards to make up to half of these bonuses part of teachers’ permanent salaries.

I’m sure there will be ample opportunity for continued debate on these issues as the second half of session commences next week. I’m hopeful we can reach consensus on these and other important issues to make this education session a success for Indiana’s students, teachers, and schools.

David Long is the President Pro Tempore of the Indiana Senate.