INDIANAPOLIS — Calling it a “landmark” moment, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a teacher-evaluation bill Saturday, surrounded by supporters including a House Democrat who broke from her party leaders to back the legislation.

Senate Bill 1 significantly changes the way Indiana public school teachers will be evaluated and ties their pay and promotion to how effective they are in the classroom.

Seniority and academic degrees — the two key elements on which teacher pay has been based in the past — now can only account for one-third of what’s considered for teacher pay increases.

Daniels said merit pay will attract and reward teachers who focus on student success. “Among all the things we can do to make more successful the children of this state, nothing comes close to a better teacher,” Daniels said. “We are so glad that Indiana has leaped to the forefront by saying to people of all backgrounds and all walks of life, ‘come and teach.’”

The bill had been opposed by the state’s teachers’ unions, who said it would strip experienced teachers of the kinds of protection built into their labor contracts, which closely link pay to seniority.

It had also been opposed by most Democrats in the House and Senate, who criticized it as an attack on school teachers. Shortly after Daniels signed the teacher-evaluation bill, House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer issued a statement condemning the sweeping education reforms pushed through the legislature by Daniels’ Republican allies.

Bauer called the legislative session that concluded Friday “a complete disaster.”

But while he was holding a media briefing that was critical of GOP-backed legislation that will expand charter schools, create vouchers for private schools and limit what teachers can bargain for collectively, one of his caucus members was voicing support for Daniels’ education reforms. Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, a Democrat from Indianapolis who’s been a vocal supporter of charter schools and changes to the state’s school-funding formula, said she was “very frustrated” that her party leaders on the state level had opposed education reforms that have been championed by President Barack Obama.

“For too long, Democrats in Indiana have been protecting the status quo,” Sullivan said. Sullivan also said the five-week walkout staged by House Democrats “set us back in the discussion on education reform.”

Sullivan, who took part in the walkout, said she was surprised when her party leaders included Daniels’ education bills — including one that she had co-authored — as reason for the boycott. She said she took part in the walkout because of other labor-related bills pushed by Republicans. “We did not leave on the education issues,” Sullivan said of she and several of her House colleagues.

Sullivan called the teacher-evaluation bill signed by Daniels on Saturday “absolutely critical” to improving the state’s underperforming schools.

A related education bill signed by Daniels two weeks ago limits what school districts and teachers’ unions can put in their collective bargaining agreement. It limits the agreements to salaries and wage-related benefits and requires school district to link those salaries to annual teacher evaluations.

Among the provisions included in the teacher-evaluation bill signed by Daniels on Saturday:

  • Requires school corporations to develop systems to evaluate teachers based, in part, on student achievement and growth and rewards teachers with more pay.

  • Removes seniority and academic degrees as the prime factors driving pay; they can now count for one-third of the consideration used for pay increases.

  • Requires parental approval before a student can be placed in a classroom with teacher rated ineffective two years straight.

  • Requires the Department of Education to partner with businesses and organizations to help schools increase operational efficiency.

  • Permits schools to pursue action against parents whose children are habitually absent and requires them to report the children to juvenile court or the Department of Child Services.
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