By Casey Smith
Indiana Capital Chronicle
INDIANAPOLIS — Despite weeks of rallying by Hoosier teachers, the Indiana Senate narrowly advanced a hotly-debated “union-busting bill” to the governor’s desk Tuesday.
Educators and union leaders maintain that Senate Bill 486 will “silence teachers” by stripping their rights to discuss concerns over student learning with school administrators.
Specifically, the bill no longer requires school administrators to discuss topics like class sizes, curriculum and student discipline with teachers and their union. State law in place now has required such discussions for the last 50 years.
The bill was approved in a 27-23 vote after more than an hour of debate on the chamber floor. It’s not clear where Gov. Eric Holcomb stands on the issue.
Republican lawmakers in favor of the proposal have said it’s a “deregulation bill” that will empower administrators and educators. They argued the changes will ensure discussions about working conditions are more open to non-union teachers and are not limited to the 16 topics in state law.
“The goal is to eliminate mandates that are either outdated or unnecessary so that our state’s teachers can focus on educating Hoosier kids,” said bill author Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger. “This bill treats educators as the professionals they are by trusting them to communicate with each other as partners, not as adversaries, in whatever way is best for the local district.”
Rogers emphasized the legislation is supported by “many groups,” including statewide associations representing school principals, superintendents and school boards.
“Some of (the current requirements) — it just takes away teachers’ time and prepping educational curriculum materials for their children,” said Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne. “If we don’t think, at the very core, that our teachers have our students’ best interests at heart, then I guess we need to continue to micromanage them.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) pushed back, however, saying the bill would further erode teachers’ collective bargaining rights.
The state’s largest teachers union rallied at the Statehouse earlier this month. Dozens of teachers returned outside the House and Senate chambers in recent weeks, chanting and yelling in opposition as lawmakers debated and voted on the bill.
The House and Senate sent two other bills to the governor Tuesday.
- House Bill 1466 raises juror pay.
- Senate Bill 35 requires a standalone financial literacy course in high school starting with the class of 2028.
But some GOP members opposed the measure, too. They held that Roger’s bill does little to benefit students and classrooms.
“Whenever I vote on an education bill, I try to ask myself a couple of questions. Is this going to provide a better, safer educational experience for children? And will it do it more efficiently? This bill does neither,” said Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores. “I see nothing in this bill that’s going to improve the educational outcomes for our children.”
Republican Sen. Jean Leising, of Oldenburg, additionally said lawmakers didn’t look closely at each of the current teacher-administrator discussion requirements in statute, but instead “took language to the chopping block — and we did it without maybe enough people involved.”
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, asserted the bill would insert more “chaos” into schools.
“At a time when we are trying to attract more teachers — but more importantly, actually keep the teachers that we have — why are we introducing yet more chaos into our local school districts and ignoring the cries that we have heard in the hallways of this statehouse throughout the last several months?” she said Tuesday.
Sen. Andrea Hunley, an Indianapolis Democrat who formerly worked as a school teacher and principal, added that it’s critical for educators to discuss issues like health and safety, student discipline, and how many hours a teacher works.
“What this bill is doing is it is taking away a formal process of discussion, a formal process that ensures that there are voices that are heard from all parties in a school building — from teachers who are part of the exclusive collective bargaining unit, from teachers who may not be, from building administrators, and keeping in mind the needs of the students,” she said. “What the formal process of discussion does is it makes sure that there’s consensus in decision making. It makes sure that we are hearing multiple perspectives.”
Still, not all teachers also oppose the measure.
That includes members of Indiana Professional Educators, an association of teachers that oppose unions.
They argued that the bill would open teacher-administrator discussions up to non-union employees. Opponents noted that nothing in the current law prohibits administrators from having such discussions with those teachers, though.
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