EDITORIAL: Bills will benefit few at expense of many

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The state officials most responsible for ensuring Indiana’s children are educated seem to be doing all they can to stifle the process most likely to ensure the state’s prosperity.

High-schoolers who are able will get the chance to move ahead to college a year early if Senate Bill 497 makes it into law. That’s wonderful, but it will affect the schools those students will leave behind.

Tony Bennett, the state superintendent of public instruction, commended in a statement issued Wednesday the House Education Committee members who approved that legislation and Senate Bill 575, which addresses teachers’ collective bargaining.

“I believe Indiana truly has the best opportunity in the nation to pass comprehensive education reform that puts students first,” he said, “and today’s votes on collective bargaining and accelerated graduation do much to advance that goal.”

His language in describing the collective-bargaining issue was Orwellian in nature.

“The bill protects teachers’ rights to collectively bargain the issues that should be in contract(s) – salaries, pay scales, and wage-related benefits – while making sure contracts aren’t bogged down by provisions that distract from schools’ core mission: teaching children.”

By “protecting” some teachers’ rights he meant stripping others they now enjoy. We believe his words were intended to mask the opinion that too many issues were included in bargaining for teachers’ contracts, and in the name of economics it made sense to remove some.

If that’s a valid opinion, why not just state it that way?

An alternative opinion suggests teachers fulfill one of the roles most critical to our society. The amounts we pay them don’t reflect that, so their ability to collectively make their wishes known about other issues seems inconsequential.

To those who have the intellectual wherewithal and motivation to benefit from Senate Bill 497, we say “go for it!” Language within it that concerns us, however, is that which says funding for students who leave early will immediately follow them in the form of scholarships.

A Feb. 12 fiscal-impact statement accompanying the bill says each student will get a $3,500 scholarship if he or she enrolls in an approved postsecondary-education institution. The high school would lose state funding for each of those students, which the statement said averages $5,336. We’re sure local school officials will be able to identify and plan for those who might qualify for the early departures, but Cannelton Schools Superintendent Al Chapman noted at a Dec. 16 school-board meeting that the bill would create the latest in a series of opportunities, like a charter-schools bill that seems certain to pass, that will reduce the flow of cash to public schools.

The Senate approved 497 and 575 Feb. 22. The latter was adopted by the House Thursday, and 497 was approved by the House Education Committee the same day.

In his role as chief executive officer for the state’s system of public schools, Bennett should be their most ardent defender. Right behind him should be the state’s senators and representatives. Yet the majority of them are championing measures that will benefit a few at the expense of the many.

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