Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels made a stop in Culver Wednesday evening, sampling the fare at the Corndance Cafe, and meeting and greeting people at the Culver-Oregon Davis basketball game (which Culver won 89 to 45). Besides Daniels' presence, it was a big night in Culver for the Elliott family. Young Trent, a player on the team, scored 33 points during the game, which dad Kyle Elliott coached. Across town at the same time, meanwhile, Kyle's father John Elliott was awarded Citizen of the Year by Culver's Lions Club for his generosity and caring in the community.
Daniels made time for friendly handshakes and chats with students, school faculty, and audience members. His stop in Culver, he said, just made sense in light of his schedule this week.
Daniels earlier visited Rochester, amid a handful of protesters, to speak on the local radio station WROI and to give a one-hour interview to area newspapers.
Gov. Daniels came to flesh out some of the details of his 2011 legislative agenda and to respond to some lingering questions about that agenda. A lot of those questions centered on his plan to overhaul the Indiana educational system. After his radio spot, he took some time to walk across the street and talk with some of the local protesters before heading over to the Rochester Sentinel for another interview with area reporters.
One of the main topics discussed was the Governor’s plan for education reform in Indiana. When asked to explain his plan, Gov. Daniels broke the plan down into three parts.
A new era of academic accountability: Local school districts use local processes to identify the most effective teachers and reward them, as well as to seek and to identify those who aren’t performing as well and get them to quickly improve or replace them with someone who can help the children as soon as possible.
Teacher performance would be evaluated not by the state but by local administration. Each district would devise a plan to evaluate teacher performance.
Performance of elementary teachers would be based on growth of education in each class throughout the duration of the year. Secondary educators’ evaluations would be devised by their local administrators. Oversight would be provided by the state to ensure that the plan is effective and not just aesthetic. Over time, districts can compare their plans and incorporate each other’s ideas for a more effective evaluation process.
More flexibility: As the expectation becomes higher for each child, the expectation for each school should become higher as well. Starting this academic year, schools will be given a grade, A through F, which can be easily understood, allowing local government and parents to hold schools accountable for improvement.
More options: Parents would be able to enroll their children in whichever school is best suited for their child’s needs. When asked if this is fair to the government’s education system, Gov. Daniels replied, “Fairness ought to be first for the families and not for the system.”
He went on to explain that, “Parents should have the right to send their children to the school of their choice. Unfairness is when the parents who pay the taxes are told by the system that they will have to send their child to a particular school and they do not have the financial means to send their child elsewhere.” The governor’s goal is to have the widest range of choice of schools; private, public, and charter, so that the parent can have the ability to send their child to a school that best suits their child’s needs without the added burden of tuition.
When asked what role tenure plays in education, Gov. Daniels replied, “I am in favor of tenure, I just believe it should be earned and not gotten just by living.”
Gov. Daniels said that in some shrinking school districts, teachers of the year had to be let go in favor of teachers who had tenure. The Governor believes that tenure should be achieved through performance. The Governor also spoke of a desire to see high school foreign language programs strengthened and his belief that even though he thinks students should be in school for a greater number of days, the school year length issue is best handled by the local school districts.
Along with education came the topic of Indiana’s “brain drain.” Brain drain is when more college educated professionals are leaving the state than are moving in. According to recent Census statistics, Gov. Daniels believes that trend is reversing. Last year Indiana saw growth in this area. The state still has to deal with low college graduation rates. Although the state had a high school graduation rate of over 85 percent, the college graduation rate was under 20 percent.
Another topic the Governor spoke of was local government reform. He would like the township system revamped and streamlined into a system where most of what is now local township functions would be handled on a county level. Gov. Daniels cited some examples where some townships are sitting on an excess of dollars while the neighboring township cannot pay for their fire department. By streamlining the process the needs of the whole county are met and less money is spent on committee payrolls.
Gov Daniels spoke of the new U.S. 31 bypass and said that it was on schedule to be completed by 2014 (with the exception of Hamilton County). He also mentioned the Hoosier Heartland Corridor which is a plan to improve the routes of S.R. 25 in central Indiana and S.R. 24 in eastern Indiana. The Governor believes that improving the routes will decrease driving time and encourage more commerce. He also spoke of environmental challenges such as extracting clean coal from Indiana to save Hoosiers money, as well as environmental successes like updating over 400 EPA licenses to current, stricter guidelines. Some of the licenses had not been updated in 20 years. Only four remain to update.
On a personal note, the Governor chatted about his love of motorcycling and of an upcoming shoulder surgery which should have him in a sling for a few weeks.
Finally the topic of Gov. Daniels’ possible run for the White House came up. The Governor has not made any decisions yet. After his interview Gov. Daniels went on his way to Culver for yet more interviews, a meal, and a high school basketball game.