By DIANE DIERKS
House Republican incumbent and challenger candidates held press conferences at schools across the state on Oct. 5 to announce their pledge of support for Indiana's education system.
"We want to let Hoosiers know what we're going to do in the next session, especially our education initiatives," said Lindsay Jancek, communications director of the "56 in '06" House Republican Campaign Committee.
Reid Dallas, District 46 challenger, Bobbie McPeak, District 43 challenger and Bruce Borders, District 45 incumbent state representative, stood at the main entrance of Terre Haute South High School and delivered the six point plan that Republicans believe will improve Indiana education in 2007.
-Safe Classrooms - Republicans want schools to require federal background checks for all job candidates. Currently, only a state background check is required.
Last year, an Indiana school hired a teacher who had pleaded guilty to charges of possession and intent to deal cocaine in another state in 2000. The state background check did not detect the arrest.
The FBI background check would cost $39 per individual or about $8,000 total per year.
-Revamp ISTEP Testing - ISTEP testing is performed in the fall of each year and students are tested on the previous year's material. The Republican House agenda calls for moving the majority of ISTEP testing to the spring and administering shorter tests throughout the year, at a projected cost of zero to $15 million. According to a poll conducted in 2002, 81 percent of teachers favor spring ISTEP testing.
-Highly Qualified Teachers in Classrooms - The educational initiative spells out a plan for the creation of the Indiana Excellence in Teaching pilot program for districts who wish to participate.
The program would provide teachers with professional development opportunities, performance-based compensation, additional career paths, evaluations based on student academic growth, and voluntary competency testing with potential bonus pay for passing.
-Focus on Classroom Spending - The education agenda would focus on increasing classroom spending, while decreasing non-classroom expenditures through the HEA1006 bill, which allows schools to use surplus money from reduced overhead to purchase items such as, food, buses and fuel.
The initiative would also utilize the recommendations of the Government Efficiency Commission. The results of the study are scheduled to be released in October, 2006.
-Make Block Grants Available to Schools for Local Programs - Schools would apply for grants in October of each year to receive funds to enhance local school programs such as, alternative education, optional full day kindergarten, technology, textbooks, reading improvement, gifted and talented programs, professional development, remediation and summer school programs.
The estimated cost of the program is $145 million per year.
-Expanding School Choice Options - The Republican House plans to make scholarship tax credits available to businesses who donate money to scholarship or school improvement organizations.
The initiative would also provide income tax credits to lower-income families for education expenses of qualified students.
According to Jancek, the education initiatives is the seventh of twelve pledges planned for the "56 in '06" campaign. House Republicans will continue to make more pledges as they forge ahead to the November elections.