Catching up with the legislature (or trying to, anyway)

Several of the bills to implement Gov. Mitch Daniels’ education agenda are moving through the Indiana General Assembly — some faster than others.

Up next: House Bill 1003, the school vouchers bill, is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday before the House Education Committee, which meets at 9 a.m. in the House Chambers. The bill, supported by Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, would provide taxpayer-funded vouchers to help pay tuition for parents who transfer their children from public to private schools.

It’s hard to keep track of legislation from a distance – ideally, you’d want to attend every meeting of the House Education Committee and the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, then follow the debates on the floor of the House and Senate. But we’ll make a stab at it anyway.

Bills that have passed either the House or Senate

House Bill 1002, which seeks to expand the number of charter schools and gives charters access to unused public-school property, was approved by the House last week, 59-37. Lots of amendments were added, and the bill is clearly a work in progress. Next step: a committee hearing in the Senate.

Bills in committee this week

Senate Bill 1, which creates new procedures for teacher evaluations and mandates merit pay for teachers, was subject to three hours of committee testimony last week. The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider amendments and vote on the bill this Wednesday; no more testimony. The bill allows up to 50 percent of teachers in a charter school to be unlicensed.

SB 496, a “parent trigger” proposal that would let parents petition to convert a low-performing school to a charter school or otherwise transform it, is also scheduled for amendments and vote Wednesday.

Bills that have passed out of committee and are being considered on the House or Senate floor

Hb 1369, a “pay for performance” bill that says school administrators must be compensated partly on the basis of student test scores, attendance and graduation rates, etc., is on second reading, which means House members can offer amendments.

HB 1238, a gag rule that says schools employees can’t speak for or against a proposed property-tax referendum during work hours, is on third reading in the House, which means it’s ready for an up-or-down vote.

SB 575, which limits collective bargaining by teachers and gives school boards more power to break a bargaining impasse, is on second reading in the Senate, which means senators can offer amendments.

Other bills

SB 171, which says the school year must start after Labor Day and end by June 10, came out of committee but failed to pass in the Senate on a vote of 23-25. Since a majority of the 50 senators didn’t vote for or against, the bill’s author could bring it back for another try.

SB 497, is Daniels’ proposal to encourage students to finish high school a year early and give them college scholarship money if they do. It appears to have been approved by the Senate Education Committee but reassigned to the Appropriations Committee, which doesn’t seem yet to have scheduled a hearing for the bill. If bills don’t come out of committee by early to mid next week, they should be dead.

Keep in mind that it’s a long, messy process for a bill to become a law. Once a bill is approved by the House or the Senate (e.g., the charter-schools bill), it goes to the other side, where the process starts over: committee hearings, amendments, second and third reading on the House or Senate floor, more amendments and more debate, etc. If the House and Senate approve different versions of the same bill, it can be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to hash out the differences.

It’s possible that several proposals mentioned above will be merged into an education mega-bill – or even sneaked into the state budget. Legislators will hold back provisions and use them for horse-trading and deal-making in the final days of the session, which lasts through April.

One way to try to keep up with the sausage factory is to identify the bills you want to follow, then keep an eye on the House calendar, Senate calendar, House committee schedule and Senate committee schedule. Another is to follow online legislative updates by the people who are there, such as the Indiana State Teachers Association and the Indiana Federation of Teachers.

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