Legislative Intent

By Laura Greifner — March 14, 2006 1 min read

A school deregulation bill designed to simplify Indiana’s education rules was so confusing that it had to be vastly clarified in the House of Representatives before being killed March 2. The House sponsor didn’t call it to a vote, he said, because a member of his party was absent, and he needed every vote he could get.

But Rep. Robert W. Behning, the sponsor, hasn’t given up. The Republican plans to find a new place for the legislation in a conference committee before the session closes this month.

Senate Bill 324 would have allowed school corporations to exempt themselves from certain education codes and regulations, ranging from policies on textbooks and curriculum to guidelines on counseling programs,AIDS education, and early-childhood programs.

“The bill as it originally [passed] the Senate was about local control,” Rep. Behning said last week. “We want to do what we can to let teachers do what they do best, which is teach, and not have their hands tied. Why have a one-size-fits-all bill coming from Indianapolis?”

Originally, the bill delineated which policy areas were ineligible to be voted exempt, Rep. Behning said, which he thinks may have contributed to the confusion. Once the measure reached a House committee, he rewrote it so it would outline the policies that would be eligible for exemption. He believes that change eliminated most of the confusion.

“I think that [the confusion] was probably a legitimate argument early on,” he said. But the redrafting in the House, he said, “added a lot of clarity to the issue.”

Daniel L. Clark, the deputy executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, agrees that the original wording was troublesome. He believes that listing the programs that would be exempt is a better approach.

“It makes it more responsible and a much nicer place to start,” Mr. Clark said, adding that he still believes the bill needs analysis before it can proceed.

Mr. Clark also pointed out that in a 1999 school accountability law, Indiana gave school districts the option of waiving curriculum and textbook requirements, so part of the bill is redundant.

Still, Rep. Behning continues to look for a place for the language.

“I intend to find a home for it in a conference committee and put it in a bill and move it forward,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week