By Lauren Casey
Gov. Mitch Daniels' special guest at Tuesday night's State of the State address offered a clear signal that his focus would be education.
Daniels invited children and their parents who are on waiting lists, unable to switch from the public schools they now attend to the charter schools they prefer.
He began the address with a salute to his favorite high school chemistry teacher, Bob Watson, who was also in the audience. Watson's advice, he said, was that "good things will come to those who wait."
"We have waited long enough," Daniels told the General Assembly and Hoosiers who were watching.
In a 32-minute speech that was interrupted by applause 18 times, often along partisan lines, and a chorus of "amens" once, Daniels urged the General Assembly to enact a series of education reforms during this year's four-month session.
"I can't wait," Daniels said.
Daniels used nearly half of his speech to make a case for a set of reforms he has discussed since last year's campaign season. He said because Indiana is falling behind a group of competitors that include students in Asia, the need to act is urgent.
Daniels said the reforms must begin with teacher accountability. He wants teachers to receive merit pay based on the performance of their students, and wants to limit collective bargaining between teachers' unions and local school corporations to wages and benefits.
He said that a key component to Indiana's educational reform is choice.
He wants students who graduate early to get the money that would've been given to their high schools to pay for their senior years, and instead be able to transfer it to the college of their choice.
Daniels called for the state to green-light a host of new charter schools, while also allowing for vouchers that would allow parents of low-income children to spent part of the approximately $6,000 a public school would receive for that student instead on private school tuition.
"We should let these families apply dollars that the state spends on their child to the non-government school of their choice," said Daniels.
Brenda Pike, executive director of the Indiana State Teacher's Association, said the organization is "troubled by the attempt to take money from the public schools for the private schools. "
Daniels focused on local government reform, calling on lawmakers to endorse more of the recommendations made in 2007 by a blue-ribbon commission chaired by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard.
He said the state should do away with township government – a layer that includes a trustee and a three-member advisory board responsible for poor relief and fire protection.
"Remove this venerable but obsolete layer of government, and assign what little remains of its duty to elected city and county officials," Daniels said.
House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said in response that while Democratic leaders support many of the things Daniels addressed, they were disappointed in the lack of attention given to the unemployment crisis.
– Franklin College Statehouse Bureau reporters Megan Banta, Mike Robertson, Shelby Salazar and Sarah Seward contributed to this story.
The above is one of an ongoing series of daily reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.