What Daniels will do with an Republican House

The big question is, if they do, what will Gov. Mitch Daniels do with it?

He had majorities in both the House and Senate in 2005 and 2006 and rammed through a balanced budget, Major Moves leasing of the Indiana Toll Road, Daylight Saving Time and signed the Indiana Telecommunications Reform Act of 2006 that is bringing broadband into rural areas and small towns. 

Democrats reclaimed the House in 2006 and it slowed what Daniels called his “freight train of change.” While there were some achievements – the Healthy Indiana Plan is notable – and two subsequent balanced budgets (he vetoed one which now is prominently featured in TV ads against Democrats this fall), the thrust of his local government and school reforms ground to a halt. He opted for licensing and standard boards, along with the State Board of Education to launch the first wave of school reforms.  

A Republican majority in the House will mean that the thrust of reforms will return to the legislative theater, with education taking center stage. “America is about to make big changes and the forces defending the status quo are pretty isolated,” Daniels said in an interview Wednesday in his Statehouse office. He emphasized that he, President Obama, U.S. Education Sec. Arne Duncan and Indiana Supt. Tony Bennett are all on the “same page.” States that drag their feet on education reforms will “get left behind,” Daniels said.

In the 2011 Indiana General Assembly, Daniels said of his first educational mission, “I would organize it as teacher quality. This means paying the best teachers more, paying the teachers in the most important subjects more. Or at least have the freedom to do that. And teachers earning job security because the kids learn, not because they’ve been around for years. Pure seniority doesn’t work. We have teachers of the year who get laid off.” 

The State Board of Education has changed the ways schools will be graded, going to an A through F format. He said it would not be fair to hold schools accountable without taking down “all sorts of mandates and handcuffs, whether it’s by statute or regulation.” 

The governor wants to “take the lid off charter schools” so they don’t struggle. This would mean ending a six-month delay in payments from the state. He added that school corporations won’t sell or give charter schools empty school buildings that taxpayers have already paid for. “We’ll address that and give them a fair shake,” he said.

“I’m going to propose that Indiana students can graduate in less than 12 years,” Daniels said, adding that he’s been approached by scores of students who tell him they had amassed enough credit hours to have graduated one or two semesters earlier. He said seniors frequently tell him “I’m cruising” at a cost of between $8,000 and $10,000 per year to taxpayers.

He said the state had “accidentally” created a competitive environment between public schools when the state assumed all K-12 school funding, taking it off the property tax rolls. “There are now billboards where schools are saying, ‘Check out our test scores.'” 

“We should say schools can’t charge tuition,” Daniels said, suggesting that if an Indianapolis Public School student wants to enroll at Ben Davis, “there will be more freedom and more options.” Essentially, the money should follow the student.

“We don’t tell people where they have to buy their groceries,” Daniels said, “but we tell them where they have to go to school.” 

Some Democrats have charged that Daniels is intent on destroying public education. “That is somebody who is thinking about adults and not the kids,” he said. “We’re going to shape it around the kids.” 

As for the Kernan-Shepard reforms on local government, Daniels said he would like to start “with the four bills that passed the Senate twice.” Those deal with nepotism among public employees, conflicts of interest (such as police and firefighters and other municipal employees serving on city and county councils that set pay), eliminating township advisory boards and moving from three county commissioners to a single county executive.

Daniels added, “I will raise the issue of township trustees.” 

Critics of House Democrats like to recall House Government and Regulatory Reform Chairman John Bartlett, who killed all the Senate bills in an amateurish committee session on the House floor, beating a path back and forth from Speaker B. Patrick Bauer’s office, where he received his marching orders. Daniels acknowledged that there will be “bipartisan support” and “bipartisan opposition” to the reforms, but added of a potential Republican House, “At least we’ll get a hearing.” 

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, noted in an e-mail Wednesday, “Indiana is in the peculiar position of having too many governments but too little governance. Some institutions hold large reserves, while others are cutting basic public services.” 

Of course, much of this is moot if Democrats keep control and Speaker Bauer keeps his power.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)

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