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Alan Petersime

Teacher pay, scholarships bills rise from the dead

The state legislature today brought back to life all or part of two education bills that had been given up for dead.

With just one day left in a legislative session that leaders hope to wrap tomorrow, the measures — a controversial effort to let school districts pay some teachers more than others and a popular idea to help future teachers pay for college — re-emerged during a process used to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of bills.

The scholarship bill — House Bill 1002 — aims to recruit more teachers to Indiana classrooms to address a teaching shortage that’s affected some schools across the state.

The bill had broad support in the House but seemed doomed to collapse last month when the Senate Appropriations Committee dumped the scholarship program and replaced it a plan to study existing scholarship programs instead. Although the original bill did not address how the scholarships would be funded, the committee chairman, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, raised concerns about the potential cost — which could amount to $15.2 million over the first four years of the program.

The final version of the bill now pays for the program. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who authored the bill, added language that would direct $10.5 million to the scholarship program.

If the bill wins final approval from both houses and is signed by Gov. Mike Pence, the scholarships would begin in Fall of 2017.

College students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes or scored in the top 20th percentile on the ACT or SAT tests could apply for $7,500 per year toward four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, said it supports the current version of the bill, as does former Hamilton Heights superintendent Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero.

“I think it will be successful,” Cook said. “I think the additions make it even stronger and better.”

The teacher pay bill has gotten new life through a teacher mentoring bill.

The controversial effort to give district superintendents the power to pay some teachers above union-negotiated pay scales has been killed off twice this year — once by the Senate and once by the House — but the issue keeps returning. Lawmakers can always offer ideas from bills that have failed as amendments to other bills on a similar topic, like education.

A milder version of the concept has resurfaced in House Bill 1005, a teacher mentoring bill that now contains a grab bag of education issues including provisions on vouchers and stipends for teachers who teach college-level classes in high schools known as dual credit classes.

The teacher pay effort was shot down in both the senate’s version, Senate Bill 10, and the House version, House Bill 1004, after Republican legislative leaders said the idea, which angered many teachers and the unions that represent them, had become too misunderstood.

When it was proposed as an addition to the mentoring bill, it took some lawmakers by surprise.

“I thought we were not going to do supplemental pay outside of collective bargaining this session,” Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said during a House Rules Committee meeting. “All of a sudden we have this provision in here?”

Specifically, the new language would permit school districts to give extra pay to teachers of Advanced Placement classes, through which students can earn college credit that allows them to bypass introductory college courses.

Rep. Bob Behning, House Education Committee chairman, said state law already allows districts to give extra pay to dual credit teachers without having to negotiate with unions. The new proposal, he said, just tweaked state law rather than made the wider changed that had been previously proposed. He said no educators complained to him this year about the existing dual credit provision.

“AP and dual credit are both college-bound programs, they require more rigor than traditional programs and they’re very important to kids to go to college,” Behning said.

Critics of the extra pay provision, including the state’s teachers unions, have argued it would create conflicts among teachers and hurt more teachers than it helps by shifting money away from some to offer extra to others. No new funding was included in the bill for teacher salaries. Supporters of the idea say more freedom to offer extra pay would allow districts to attract teachers to schools that are struggling to fill positions, especially those with special expertise.

The teacher mentoring bill also now includes other controversial education ideas discussed earlier in the legislative session.

Lawmakers added in all of Senate Bill 334, including a proposal to extend the deadline for applications for taxpayer-funded vouchers from Sept. 1 to Jan. 15. The mentoring bill with its new additions passed the full House in a 51-43 final vote. It next heads to the Senate.