More Republican Governors Push for Education Overhaul

By: - October 11, 2011 12:00 am

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is expected to announce his education reform policy today at a charter school in York, making him the latest Republican governor to push for major education changes in his state. Main flanks of the policy are expected to include more school choice, linking student performance to teacher evaluations and expanding a tax-credit program that encourages businesses to fund scholarships for private schools, according to The Associated Press. 

The governor has indicated that school reforms are his second highest priority , after imposing an impact fee on the state’s natural gas drillers. Corbett’s plan would include publicly-supported vouchers for students who attend private schools and changes to the state’s charter school laws to encourage the expansion of those schools. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are opposed to some of Corbett’s suggested changes,  The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reports. The plan could wind up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, and teachers’ unions have said that restoring the state’s major cuts to education last year should be the top legislative priority. The governor hopes to pass many of the changes in the fall so that they can be in place for the start of school next year.

A week ago, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad laid out his plan for an education overhaul , which includes a four-tiered teacher payment and promotion system and “value-added” teacher evaluations, which take into account student performance and other factors, the Sioux City Journal reports.The plan would also provide financial support to schools implementing innovative programs and impose more exams on both high school students and elementary school students in order for them to advance. 

At three town hall meetings last week, some audience members raised concerns about the tiered system  – in which the lowest level, “apprentice” teachers would be considered at-will employees for three to five years before becoming “career” teachers. Higher level “mentor” and “master” teachers would spend as much as half of their time developing curriculum and working with junior teachers. A teachers’ union representative questioned the wisdom of pulling the most experienced teachers out of the classroom for such significant chunks of time, arguing that it made more sense for junior teachers to spend more time out of the classroom getting extra training, rather than the other way around, according to The Des Moines Register .

Corbett and Branstad join a large number of Republican governors, in states such as Idaho, Florida, Nevada and Maine , among others, that have pushed education changes in the past year. Those moves have not come without controversy. In Indiana, the state’s expansion of voucher programs and charter schools, as well as adoption of performance pay, damaged relations between state leaders and teachers. Speaking in Bloomington, Indiana, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Tony Bennett, said he has fences to mend with teachers who feel as though they have been lumped in with “chronic underperformers.”

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