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Ind. Bill To Create Teacher-Majority Board Advances

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Backed by the formidable lobbying clout of the state's teachers' unions, a bill to establish an autonomous, teacher-majority board to license and certify teachers has cleared the Indiana legislature.

The measure, currently awaiting Gov. Evan Bayh's signature, passed easily despite opposition from the state education department and other education groups.

If the bill becomes law, Indiana will join a handful of other states that already have teacher controlled beards with independent authority over licensing and certification. Creation of such panels has been a major goal of the National Education Association. (See Education Week, Sept. 13, 1989.)

Supporters of the legislation say giving the final say over certification to teachers themselves, rather than the state beard of education, would raise the standards and dignity of teaching as a profession.

"At long last it gives teachers the ultimate voice as far as who will be certified and the regulations surrounding that," said Gail M. Pluta, a lobbyist with the Indiana Federation of Teachers, which joined the Indiana State Teachers Association in supporting the measure.

Under the legislation, 9 of the 16 beard members would be teachers.

But critics of the measure, including Superintendent of Public Instruction H. Dean Evans, say it would impede school reform and undermine efforts to coordinate education policy under the state beard.

Mr. Evans last week wrote the Governor urging him to veto the bill, warning that it would "create a disastrous separation between teacher training, testing, and certification from the many other aspects of education which greatly impact our schools."

Mr. Bayh has not said if he will sign the bill, although he has in the past expressed support for the concept of a professional-standards board, according to Don Ernst, the Governors executive assistant for elementary and secondary education.

Mr. Evans last month announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination to oppose Mr. Bayh, a Democrat, for re-election this fall.

Political Factors Seen

The smooth passage of the bill was in marked contrast with last year, when it died in the Republican-majority Senate after President Pro Tom Robert D. Garton refused to send it to the Education Committee.

This year--to the surprise of some members of his own party-Senator Garton not only promptly sent the bill to committee but also enthusiastically backed it.

Opponents of the bill, including Ed Adams, the chief budget analyst for Mr. Evans, suggested that Mr. Garton's quick action on the bill may have been designed to gain teachers'union support for his fellow Republicans going into the fall elections.

Representative Philip T. Warner, a Republican, offered a similar analysis, adding that the panel may have seemed to lawmakers like a good way to appeal to teachers at a time when the state's tight fiscal situation has made it hard to find funding for new programs. "Sometimes we give other incentives when there's less money around," he said.

Mr. Warner also said that Senator John R. Sinks, who chairs the Sonate Education Committee, may have "a tight race" next fall.

But Mr. Garton, who noted that he is not up for re-election until 1994, denied that he was influenced by potential political gains from lining up with the unions. And Mr. Sinks, a highschool counselor in Fort Wayne, said he did not "make an agreement" with the unions and that he checked with school officials in his district before supporting the bill.

Even so, Ms. Pluta of the I.F.T. acknowledged that some legislators may have been looking for a political benefit. "I'm sure there are some people who are looking at their races and thought this would be a good thing to go back and tell their teachers,'' she said. "[But] I would hope that this was not just political."

Similar Measures Elsewhere

Other states that have established autonomous professional-standards beards, some with a majority of teachers, include Oregon, California, Minnesota, Iowa, and Georgia, according to Susan Carmon, a senior policy analyst with the National Education Association. Lawmakers in Connecticut, North Dakota, and Maine may take up similar measures this year, Ms. Carmon said.

Teachers benefit from such boards because they have a vested interest in maintaining standards, she said, which "have been highly variable over the years depending on the politics and economy' of states.

But opponents say that the Indiana teacher board would hamper reform efforts and take the public voice out of licensing and certification.

Mr. Evans expressed concern in his letter that the beard may not give "serious consideration" to alternative-certification programs.

Jane Ping, the president of Indiana Professional Educators, a nonunion teachers' group that opposed the legislation, said the beard fails to acknowledge that teachers have a responsibility to the public.

"Our profession is a public profession that works for the taxpayer," she said. The legislation takes licensing and certification "out of the public domain and puts it in the hands of a special-interest group. It excludes parents, the public, and non-union teachers."

The state principals' and school administrators' organizations also opposed the bill.

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