House panel resurrects controversial teacher pay bill

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

A proposal to let superintendents pay some teachers more than others without approval from their unions got new life today.

Just days after the Senate unexpectedly killed a controversial House bill that would have granted superintendents new negotiating powers, the House Education Committee today resurrected the measure by taking up a similar Senate bill.

Senate Bill 10 had been previously unlikely to get a hearing, but when it seemed clear that House Bill 1004 would get knocked down by the Senate last week, House members scrambled to put the Senate’s version on its last-minute docket for today, the last day for hearings. The committee passed it 7-4.

The political maneuvering angered teachers unions and other educators who have vocally opposed both bills and was a snub to Senate Republicans who thought the politically charged issue was better left alone this year.

“The bill usurps local control and crushes relationships,” said Sally Sloan, a lobbyist for the Indiana Federation of Teachers.

The bills were intended to give superintendents new tools to attract qualified teaching candidates in the face of a state-wide teaching shortage in subjects like math, science and special education and in urban and rural districts. But the Senate bill goes even farther than the House version.

Although both bills would let superintendents decide to raise teacher pay above union-approved pay scales, Senate Bill 10 didn’t receive the amendments that made the House version more palatable to some legislators.

The House version limited higher-salary negotiations to superintendents trying to hire teachers for hard-to-fill positions, but the Senate bill would extend that choice to districts aiming to “attract or retain a teacher as needed.” The Senate bill would also let superintendents inform their school boards of those decisions in private meetings, rather than requiring those discussions to be public.

House Democrats who opposed the House version were dismayed about the farther-reaching Senate bill.

“If (decisions are made) in executive session, what kind of transparency is going to be possible under this?” said Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie. “It just seems like it’s going to create the kind of atmosphere that gets away from cooperation.”

Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, questioned whether the bill was being rushed through.

“There’s a host of unanswered questions,” she said. “It may be the greatest concept since sliced bread, but the point is we have not thought it through carefully.”

Originally, Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he’d make both bills’ teacher pay language identical if the committee passed the Senate bill, but because House Bill 1004, which Behning authored, is dead, any changes from House lawmakers could bring up the possibility that the Senate version dies as well.

“Obviously the fate of (House Bill 1004) changed last week, so I just had a change of opinion on how I should move forward,” Behning said.

Late last week, senators announced the legislation should not move forward.

“The Senate Republican Caucus has decided that we will not proceed with House Bill 1004 or any similar legislation this year,” Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said in a statement. “We believe that the bill’s intent to deal with the teacher shortage issue in Indiana was misperceived by some as something that would be harmful to teachers. That was not the bill’s intent, nor do I believe that would actually occur. However, it is clear we need to go back to the drawing board.”

Senate Bill 10 and now-dead House Bill 1004 were both strongly opposed by the state’s teachers unions as well as some unaffiliated educators. Critics argued the bill would create tension among teachers and prevent collaborative work that would better serve kids. Teachers who spoke to the panel also had many questions about exactly how the negotiation process would work.

“Bargaining outside of collective bargaining is so detrimental and causes more losses than wins,” Sloan said. “If teachers are coming in and asking for more than has been bargained, then someone is going to lose.”

But the bill’s supporters say superintendents need more flexibility to attract qualified teaching candidates. Melissa Scherle, a teacher at Indianapolis Public Schools Washington Irving School 14, said she’s seen too many good teachers leave because of higher pay offered elsewhere.

“We were not able to compete with (other schools) because we had very little wiggle room with our compensation,” Scherle said.

If House lawmakers approve any amendments to the Senate bill, the Senate would either have to agree to those changes or take the issue to a conference committee for more debate and a final vote from the full Senate. Without amendments, the bill could go straight to the governor. House Bill 1004 narrowly passed the House earlier this month 57-42.

But Behning said some parts of the bill still don’t sit right with him, such as the provision for private meetings. Those issues could be changed in later bills that wouldn’t threaten Senate Bill 10 from advancing through the full House, he said.

“I still have issues with (the private meetings),” Behning said. “But there are ways we can tweak that going forward.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”