PenceAtPodium
Gov. Mike Pence laid out his 2014 legislative agenda in a speech Thursday at the annual Legislative Conference. (Scott Elliott)

Gov. Mike Pence wants to extend the concept of school choice to teachers, he said today, offering state aid to those who are willing to work in low-scoring, high-poverty schools.

Pence made education a centerpiece of the 2014 legislative agenda he announced in a speech today, with the novel “teacher choice” program one of five plans aimed at improving schools.

Under the plan, teachers who chose to work at low-performing schools serving high-poverty communities would receive a salary boost from the state.

Details of Pence’s proposals — especially the potential costs — have not yet been determined, according to his staff.

Also among his education ideas were a plan for Indiana to venture for the first time into direct funding of preschool for poor children and a proposal to expand career and technical education programs he pushed through the legislature earlier this year.

Four of his proposals — to help charter school networks, make it easier for charter schools to use school district buildings, establish an educator innovation fund, and the teacher choice program — were first aired in a controversial email released by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz on Wednesday.

The email, written by a lawyer from the Center for Education and Career Innovation that Pence developed, included proposals for Pence’s education legislative agenda. Ritz released the email as part of her complaint that the center is aiming to strip her of her powers as state board chairman.

Pence said Thursday he would not support a bill to limit Ritz’s power.

Here’s more detail on each of Pence’s proposals:

Teacher Choice

The “teacher choice” proposal aims to provide an incentive for teachers to take jobs at low-scoring public or charter schools serving high-poverty areas. As an incentive, the state would offer additional pay to supplement teachers’ salaries at their new schools.

The program would particularly help charter schools, which typically pay far less than traditional public schools. For example, in 2012 the average salary of an Indianapolis Public Schools classroom teacher was $53,910. The average pay for a charter school classroom teacher in the city, meanwhile, was $39,055. The lowest-paying charter school that year paid $20,900 less than IPS on average.

Pence’s plan would cover a portion of that difference in salary for a teacher who changed schools. Teachers could earn the extra pay up to three years.

Claire Fiddian-Green, co-director of CECI, said teachers would receive a flat amount of extra salary. How much has not yet been determined.

She said she hoped it would be enough to create an effective incentive, especially for teachers who are motivated more by a mission to serve needy children than by money. “It gives more choices to teachers if there is some structural reason that keeps you from moving to do mission-oriented work in a D or F school that serves a high percentage of free or reduced-price lunch kids,” Fiddian-Green said. “Is this the extra boost that gives you that added oomph to make the bridge over there?”

Preschool

Pence proposed remedying Indiana’s status as one of just a dozen states that provides no state funds for pre-kindergarten programs. “Children, especially from low income families, often are unprepared when reach kindergarten,” Pence said. “It’s time for us to give our most disadvantaged kids a chance at success.”

Fiddian-Green said the program would be aimed at the 44,000 most needy Hoosier children and would operate much like the state’s K-12 voucher program. Families could choose public or private preschool and use state dollars to pay tuition. Preschools would be evaluated for their effectiveness, perhaps based on assessment tests judging their readiness for kindergarten.

Fiddian-Green acknowledged that 44,000 students in the program would have an “enormous fiscal impact on the state,” saying the program might be phased in over a period of several years and acknowledging that the level of funding would depend on negotiations with legislators. “We’re not ready to speak about money yet,” she said.

Charter schools

Pence proposed allowing charter school networks — companies or non-profits that operate more than one school in the state — to operate under a single governing board.

Currently, each charter school must have its own board. Charter boards report to a sponsor — such as a university or Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office — who judges whether they meet their goals and can be shut down. The boards also choose the managers for the charter schools they run.

Pence’s plan would allow a single board to oversee several charter schools managed by the same operator. The plan would also treat charter school networks like school districts, allowing them to share funds among schools.

School buildings

State law already allows charter schools to buy or rent empty school district buildings, but a Pence proposal would take that one step further. His plan would create a new public or public-private entity to manage unused school buildings. The new entity would capture property tax dollars to maintain the buildings and assign them to charter schools or public schools as it deems fit.

Laws passed in 2011 and 2013 give charter schools the right to rent or buy unused public school space for low cost.

Innovation fund

Pence proposed creating a new competitive grant program — except unlike President Obama’s Race to the Top grants, these would go to Indiana teachers interested in taking on an innovative idea in their classroom.

Career and technical education study

Pence called for a “return on investment” study to determine which career and technical programs best prepare high school students to earn jobs upon graduation.