Gov. Eric Holcomb's teacher pay commission has now met five times, each time in sessions closed to the public. The seven-member panel, charged with addressing Indiana's lagging teacher salaries, includes one college administrator, but no teachers.
“There is an opportunity here to have a thorough public discussion on how to fix this detrimental problem in our state, and we're seeing a few folks from outside the teaching profession meeting privately,” said Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary. “We can do so much better than that.”
Commission chairman Michael L. Smith told Indiana Chalkbeat, an education news site, the meetings aren't “secretive.” The members are gathering data and gearing up for a series of meetings to gather public input this summer, he said.
But developing recommendations from closed-door discussions is a sure-fire way to breed mistrust and resentment among those who will be most affected. Melton is right to suggest Indiana can do better – the state did much better two decades ago, when an atmosphere of mistrust and resentment led a Democratic governor and Republican state superintendent to create the Indiana Education Roundtable. For years, parents, educators and representatives of the business and labor communities collaborated in public sessions to advance policies from preschool through post-secondary education.
Gov. Frank O'Bannon and state Superintendent Suellen Reed, along with Commissioner for Higher Education Stan Jones, supported the roundtable as it pushed for creation of higher academic standards, a stronger accountability system and targeted resources to help teachers align instruction with new standards.
The National Governors Association took notice as the percentage of Indiana high school students completing a Core 40 diploma doubled and the state moved from 34th to 10th in the percentage of college-bound high school graduates. The association cited establishment of a “permanent education roundtable or commission” as a best practice in 2005.
“Working in conjunction with the state board of education, the roundtable has raised Indiana's academic standards to be among the best in the nation,” according to the 2005 report. “Multiple measures of success show Indiana's work is paying off with increased student achievement.”
The progress didn't last, however. Legislation establishing the roundtable called for members to be appointed jointly by the governor and state superintendent and prescribed representation among business and community leaders, higher education and elementary and secondary education. When the political tides changed in Indiana, there was no longer need for the collaborative approach that Democrat O'Bannon and Republican Reed employed.
Business interests, in the guise of workforce development, have now silenced educator views. Eliminating the state superintendent's post as an elected office and moving up the effective date to give the governor appointment authority extinguished the last hope for broader discussion. Holcomb's Next Level Teacher Pay Commission meets privately and without notice because it can – the General Assembly has invested the governor's office with almost all authority over education in Indiana.
But authority carries responsibility. Without the input of a broad group of stakeholders, including teachers, the salary panel faces long odds in crafting recommendations to help Indiana move out of the ranks of states with the lowest teacher pay. And every month that passes without progress serves to discourage experienced teachers, those new to the profession and – most worrisome – those considering a career in the classroom.
The state's stalled progress also presents an opportunity. Holcomb can look to recent history and revive a best practice that spurred real progress for education in Indiana, through the Indiana Education Roundtable.
Members of Gov. Eric Holcomb's Next Level Teacher Pay Commission:
Michael L. Smith, Indianapolis; former chairman, president and CEO of Mayflower Group and former executive vice president and CFO of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield
Jená Bellezza, Gary; chief operating officer of Indiana Parenting Institute
Tom Easterday, Zionsville; former senior executive vice president, secretary and chief legal officer for Subaru of Indiana Automotive
Marianne Glick, Indianapolis; chair of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Family Foundation and board member of the Gene B. Glick Co.
Bob Jones, Evansville; chairman and CEO of Old National Bancorp
Katie Jenner, Madison; vice president of K-12 initiatives and statewide partnerships at Ivy Tech
Nancy Jordan, Fort Wayne; senior vice president of Lincoln Financial Group