The Outstater: LGBT or STEM

March 4, 2016

IT IS DIFFICULT for outsiders to follow the logic of a legislative session. There are decisions and votes that would make perfect sense — or so we are told — if we knew the backstory.

Even so, comparing the history of two issues this session, both known by their acronym, one summarily killed without discussion this morning and the other a matter of seeming eternal Statehouse debate, raises the question of whether we are sending the right people to Indianapolis to do the people’s business, whether they have their priorities straight.

The first has been on every front page for two years — the passel of laws, rules, interpretations and philosophical arguments advanced by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement. The second, the more mundane, is mentioned toward the bottom of legislative roundups and would quite logically change how public schools hire desperately needed math teachers.

The LGBT position is controversial. So, bully for the legislature, you might say, fighting for the rights of the few over the indifference of the many. The urgency of that position, however, is diminished by a counter-argument that those citizens are already protected along with everyone else in a legislator’s constituency — a tempest in a teapot, as the British say.

But let us grant the worth of the LGBT argument, or at least grant that there are many honest, well-meaning Hoosiers who believe it is worthy, either intrinsically or as part of a “welcoming” projection to those who might want to invest here. The number of Hoosiers directly and immediately affected, though, will be in the magnitude of hundreds and not thousands or tens of thousands.

The number of Hoosiers who will be affected by a shortage of teachers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), however, is on another quantitative plane altogether. It involves one of the most important responsibilities of state government, the success or failure of which affects every Indiana citizen — generations of them. And the options before the legislators can be compared with economic certainty.

Shouldn’t they be given as full and complete an airing as the LGBT complaints?

A House bill this session would have given teachers the same free-market rights enjoyed in other professions or businesses (including, incidentally, cake-baking and wedding photography). Specifically, it would have helped alleviate a severe shortage in the STEM fields. Principals would have been given the freedom to negotiate directly with such teachers outside the anachronistic restrictions of the state Collective Bargaining Act.

It is difficult to identify any adult losers in such an arrangement other than, of course, union officials, whose power would be weakened. In this case, though, no other jobs would be endangered or salaries affected. The big losers would be the students should the teacher shortage be left unaddressed.

And unaddressed it shall be. The measure was dead in the Senate on arrival from the House. The reason? It is “misperceived by some as something that would be harmful to teachers.” Translation: This might risk political careers.

Objecting is Rep. Mike Braun, a member of the House Education Committee. He argues that although the leadership may be sensitive to union concerns there must be a trade-off between “fairness” and flexibility. “If we didn’t have that kind of flexibility in our own business, we would be losing out to our competitors,” said Braun, owner of a national distribution company.

In this case, “fairness” means turning out generations of uncompetitive Indiana graduates for reasons that cannot be explained outside personal ambition and election-year convenience. The backstory? It’s too reprehensible, both individually and institutionally, to bear the light of day.

— Craig Ladwig


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