Senate Bill 486 Dubbed by supporters of the “liberalization of education” bill by opponents and the “silencing” of the teacher bill by opponents — it could be a few steps away from becoming law after the Indiana House passed Monday.
The bill contains several provisions, most of which take away parts of Indiana’s education law. It reduces annual training requirements, relaxes state teacher evaluation guidelines and mandates principals to discuss working conditions with worker representatives selected by their teachers.
Rep. Jake Tishka (R-South Bend) is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House.
“The goal is to eliminate outdated or unnecessary mandates so that our teachers in our state can focus on educating Hoosier kids,” Tishka said. “As we move more and more into [school] Choice environment… There is less need for us to be so prescriptive in our regulations of traditional public schools. It’s time to deregulate and let them compete.”
The bill’s author, Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), said she plans to ask the Senate to approve the House’s changes to the bill. This means that SB 486 could be headed to the governor’s office as soon as this week. At this point, Governor Eric Holcomb had seven days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.
Each of these proposed changes has faced some pushback, mostly from teachers unions and their members and Democratic lawmakers — as well Few Republicans.
“Make no mistake, [SB 486] “It’s a union-busting bill,” said Glyniva Dunham, president of both the Gary Teachers Union and the Indiana Teachers Union. “Teacher after teacher shared their actual encounters and why we need to remove that language from this bill. Otherwise, it’s a good bill. Did they listen? No, they didn’t.”
The changes are mostly supported by school management organizations and their members and a majority of GOP lawmakers.
Rogers, a former teacher, said she had heard from non-union teachers who supported the bill, although none of them testified directly to the bill at any stage while many union teachers who opposed it did.
The bill passed the House 63-36 as a group of teachers could be heard booing and cheering outside the hall. The Senate passed him Much narrower margin earlier in this session.
Below is a breakdown of the major changes to SB 486 as it was amended and passed by the House.
Required discussions become optional
The discussion mostly focuses on changing to a single word. State law currently states that school officials “must” discuss issues and decisions regarding working conditions with the teachers union or other elected representatives. The code lists topics to be discussed: class sizes, safety issues, student discipline, rewards from grants, teaching methods, and 11 other items.
The bill would replace the word “shall” in the current law with the word “may” and delete the list of subjects. This gives district leaders the power to choose whether to discuss these issues with a union representative, just a group of employees or not discuss them at all.
The change does not affect the law relating to bargaining over wages or benefits.
Teachers and other opponents of the bill argued in their testimonies that too many administrators would use this power to distance employees from critical conversations. A common refrain used by opponents is “The conditions of the teacher’s work are the conditions of the student’s learning.”
“The Association of Superintendents and the School Board Association have supported taking away your discussion rights,” Alison Haley, a teacher and union president in Noblesville, told a rally. They met at the State House Friday. “They say they’re our allies. They say we’re on the same team. My name is BS.”
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Supporters of the bill — such as the Indiana Association of Public School Supervisors — say they don’t think officials will want to shut down all discussion as opponents fear. Many educators opposed to the bill argued that it was as naive to think that principals would constantly maintain open lines of communication without a mandate, like trusting a “wolf” who says he will listen to “the sheep”.
Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute), a former educator, has argued that removing the debate mandate would cause more teachers to leave the state or the profession entirely.
“This legislature is creating more ways to arm teachers, but at the same time, we’re taking ways to discuss safety issues for students and employees in the workplace,” Pfaff said. “The key to any relationship is communication. With this law, communication becomes optional.”
Supporters also argue that the current mandate could exclude teachers who are not members of the union. Rep. Matt Lehmann (R-Bern) said he realized the mandate didn’t stop school leaders from talking to non-union teachers, either.
“I reached out to my boss and said, ‘Can you meet with non-union groups? The answer is, we’re not banned, but we’re in some real trouble if we do,'” Lehman said. [discussion] It should be available to all teachers, and so I think that’s good language.”
Furthering a similar argument, Sen. Gary Byrne (R-Barnville) said a teacher in his constituency told him they were forbidden to be part of their school’s curriculum committee because they were not on the union.
“I think this bill will correct this and many other problems,” Byrne said.
But Lori Young, a teacher in Evansville and president of a local union, pointed this out during her testimony Current law prohibits Schools exclude teachers from these committees on the basis of their union membership.
In fact, the law requires schools to limit the participation of unionized teachers in such committees “so that the percentage of teachers in the school institution does not exceed members” of the union. There is no such limitation based on the proportion of non-union teachers.
Regardless, the bill’s changes to debate requirements are unrelated to participation in such committees. Senator Byrne declined a request for more information about the supposed case he mentioned.
Many union leaders and individual teachers said in their testimonies that the concerns and needs of non-union teachers are often brought up by union representatives in these discussions.
Low annual training requirements
Senate Bill 486 originally eliminated the requirement for teachers to receive regular training on how to identify and address six issues they might encounter in their classrooms: criminal gang organizations, human trafficking, bleeding control groups, physical restraints and isolation, and homeless students and seizures.
In contrast, the bill required that these topics be covered by teacher preparation programs and said the Indiana Department of Education “may” create an online portal to make those trainings available to teachers who want them.
Supporters of the bill noted that the change does not prevent individual schools from choosing to continue to require such training for their teachers.
That part of the bill was changed in the House of Representatives after facing stiff opposition from some Republican senators Almost blocked Bill out of that room.
“They can be restrained in a way that might be the same way an adult would be restrained, that could be a 7- or 8-year-old,” Senator Mike Buhacek (R-Michiana Shores) told the bill’s author, Senator Rogers. “So according to your bill, don’t you think this requires training for everyone in the school?”
The version of SB 486 passed by the House on Monday maintains annual isolation and restraint training requirements, but instead of requiring them to be “appropriate school personnel,” the bill would make the training required only for “special education teachers and school resource personnel.”
He will also continue to order anti-bleeding kits and human trafficking training. The exercises on homelessness, criminal gangs, and seizures will only be optional.
The training portion of the bill received less opposition than the debate provisions and even some limited praise from people who would otherwise oppose the bill, especially after the amendment reinstated some of the training requirements. But some advocates say the reduced requirements could put the most vulnerable students at risk.
Less evaluation rules for the teacher
The last major change by Senate Bill 486 eliminated the requirement that all schools evaluate teacher performance against certain guidelines. Schools are still required to take assessments. This part of the bill received minimal attention and controversy, but it wasn’t exactly controversial—even among Republicans.
The House version adds a few more requirements to the evaluation process than the bill originally proposed. Schools must still report assessment plans and results to the state, but the plans are no longer subject to state approval.
The House also added a provision that would require any evaluations used by the school district to result in teachers being rated on the following scale: “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Improvement Necessary,” or “Ineffective.”
Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said he does not “agree with all” of the House’s additions to the evaluation and training provisions.
“We support Senate Bill 486 on the point of deregulation and the fact that we believe it will help in the efficient running of school businesses and also help in the efficiency of teacher retention and where requirements are not as restrictive and conflicting ideals as they were in the past.
Assessment plans and training requirements are among the topics that schools are no longer required to discuss with teacher representatives under this law.
Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Violet Comber-Wilen contributed to this story.