School 'deregulation' bill barely clears last hurdle to governor’s desk despite teacher objections
Senators narrowly voted Tuesday to send a bill that advocates argued will free schools from state “micromanagement” to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 486 drew bipartisan opposition from senators who said it will “silence” teachers and endanger students. Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger) is the bill’s author.
“We cannot continue to embrace outdated mandates,” Rogers said in her final closing statement on the bill. “It's time we take the regulatory handcuffs [off] and allow schools to make decisions at the local level and not micromanage the employee-employer relationship.”
“Whenever I vote on an education bill, I try to ask myself a couple of questions,” said Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores). “Is this going to provide a better, safer educational experience for children? And will it do it more efficiently? This bill does neither.”
Some opponents, like Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis), argue the bill falls short of its creators’ stated goals, especially given other legislation this session.
“I wish that we would truly deregulate what's happening in our classrooms,” Hunley said. “But the irony is that this session we've actually told teachers how to teach reading … We have added a new course on financial literacy. Both of those things I support. We are going to analyze whether or not cursive writing is being taught. And we also have a bill right now that says we don't trust teachers to choose reading materials in the classroom.”
SB 486 has many provisions, mostly cutting chunks out of Indiana’s education code. The most controversial change: it strips out a mandate for school administrators to discuss working conditions with their teachers’ chosen labor representatives.
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Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) and other proponents argue the bill doesn’t prohibit schools from choosing to maintain the status quo and continue having those discussions.
“We're… easing up a little bit of the heavy hand that we've put on our local schools so that they can sink or swim on their own. We have to start trusting them,” Brown said. “We don't need to be in charge of everything that happens in a classroom between the teacher and the student and or between the school principal and this teacher and the superintendent and their staff.”
Opponents say while many administrators will likely continue to seek teacher input, it is naive to believe some won't take advantage of the option to shut down discussion.
That proposed change has drawn many teachers and their unionsto the Statehouse over the last few days in a last-ditch effort to convince lawmakers to stop the bill.
Jenna Blaising, from MSD Warren Township, was among those teachers. Like her colleagues, she was concerned about the removal of discussion requirements – but she was also worried about a part of the bill that got less attention throughout its contentious legislative journey.
“It's also very important that we keep the trainings that they want to take out,” Blaising said. “If we are not training teachers on how to spot those things, then our children are going to fall under the radar.”
SB 486 strips out requirements for teachers to receive regular training on how to identify and handle student homelessness, criminal gangs and seizures.
Supporters of the stripped-down requirements argue they are onerous additions to teachers' workloads and may not always be relevant. Blaising agrees there might be several years when the topics covered by those trainings never come up in a teacher’s classroom
“And then other years, like just this year, one of our teachers noticed that a student was having seizures,” Blaising said. “She reached out to the parent. The child ended up in Riley [Hospital for Children] … And if that teacher wouldn't have reached out to that parent, she would have never known. And it was like right after one of our trainings. And so it was refreshed in her memory, and that helped her identify those seizures in that child.”
Supporters of the bill also say they “trust” individual schools to choose to require those trainings if they’re truly needed and the bill lets teachers seek them out on their own.
“If we allow them to be optional, then that also leaves room for it to be the cost on the teachers,” Blaising said. “And then it might not be that the teacher doesn't want to take it, but they don't have the funds necessary to take them.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb has seven days to either sign SB 486, veto it or let it become law without his signature.