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Best Policy Innovations Of 2011

by Jeanne Allen
December 6, 2011

Indiana’s sweeping education reforms set a national bar.

Education reform was front and center for many states during 2011. From new or expanded charter school laws to the once-controversial notion of school choice — aka vouchers — to performance pay for teachers and tenure reforms, education dominated headlines and statehouses. But for all the activity, the sweeping reforms that took place in Indiana stand out.

The innovations in the Hoosier State broke the decades-old fixation on zoning children into schools by ZIP code, creating a new environment of expansion for charter schools and giving school districts new flexibility in addressing inflexible union contracts.

In just one legislative session, Indiana catapulted itself to the top of the list for school choice states. And the benefit of the hard work came into focus in November, when Indiana’s became the nation’s largest first-year program, with nearly 4,000 students accepted for school vouchers.

The statewide program, which has the broadest eligibility of any school choice program in the country, allows low- and middle-income families the ability to choose a private school.

The Legislature also took steps to increase the number of quality charter schools offering public-school options when it approved a proposal to allow most of the state’s private colleges to sponsor charter schools. It enabled charters to take over unused buildings owned by traditional public schools. The state also gave online virtual charter schools a boost with more equitable funding.

That level of reform would have been enough to satisfy many states. But in Indiana, the Legislature went a step further and addressed some of the inherent flaws that have plagued education throughout the nation.

Indiana limited the scope of collective-bargaining agreements between teachers unions and school districts, established performance pay for teachers and tied student performance to the teacher evaluation process. With the disappearance of ironclad tenure for teachers and the arrival of merit-based promotions, Indiana has laid the groundwork for public-school reforms that will revolutionize its industry of learning.