INDIANAPOLIS | Stressing the need for urgent action, Gov. Mitch Daniels called for reforms to Indiana education and local government during his State of the State speech Tuesday that could forever transform how students are taught, schools funded and Hoosiers served.
"The need for major improvement, and the chance for achieving it, is so enormous tonight that opportunity rises to the level of duty," Daniels said.
The Republican governor urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to allow public funds to follow Indiana students to any school a student wants to attend, including private schools. Daniels said it was a matter of justice that poor students have equal access to nonpublic schools.
"It is about the civil right, the human right, of every Indiana family to make decisions for its children. It's about the right of all Hoosier children to realize their full potential in life," Daniels said.
Specific details of the governor's voucher plan still need to be decided by state legislators, but the governor has previously said he expects voucher amounts will be based on family income and will not exceed the cost to educate a student in a public school.
Education consumed the largest portion of the 30-minute speech to state lawmakers assembled in a packed Indiana House chamber. Daniels also advocated for changes to public schools.
He called for teacher merit pay based on student achievement, limiting teacher collective bargaining to salaries and benefits, rewarding teacher effectiveness instead of seniority, and paying students who graduate high school early $3,500 to attend an Indiana college or other postsecondary program.
Daniels said he doesn't want changes made because he hates public schools, as some critics charge, but because he loves the children "whose very lives and futures depend on the quality of the learning they either do or do not acquire while in our schools."
But education was not the governor's only target for reforms Tuesday night.
He called on lawmakers to replace the current three-member county executive office with a single county commissioner, once again proposed the elimination of township government and demanded strict nepotism laws in local government.
"The conflict of interest when double-dipping government workers simultaneously sit on city or county councils, interrogating their own supervisors and deciding their own salaries, must end," Daniels said.
The speech also was notable for what the governor left out. He spoke only one sentence on two issues important to many legislators: redistricting and the nearly $2 billion Indiana owes to the federal government for ongoing loans to keep the state's unemployment program solvent.
Daniels was not shy in taking credit for other aspects of Indiana's financial condition.
He was gleeful in proclaiming Indiana's property taxes the lowest in the nation. He was proud of fixing a multibillion-dollar state budget deficit without raising taxes. And he said Indiana is on the right track toward creating jobs by making the state more business-friendly.
"We say tonight, whatever course others may choose, here in Indiana we live within our means, we put the private sector ahead of the government, the taxpayer ahead of everyone, and we will stay in the black, whatever it takes," Daniels said.