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Daniels Closes In on Education Reform Goal

Daniels Closes In on Education Reform Goal

By Erin McPike - April 27, 2011

Throughout April, while the political world in Washington fixated on a possible government shutdown and awaited the campaign entries and exits of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels hunkered down in Indiana, and the presidential buzz surrounding him began to subside.

But while no one was looking, Daniels finished up that last, pesky policy goal until now missing from his gubernatorial record that his loyalists hoped he'd take with him into a presidential campaign. That goal was education reform.

Spread out in four different bills is a package of reforms ranging from school choice to teacher quality that will bring to the Hoosier State some of the most sweeping education changes in the country. One of the measures has been signed, another is headed to the governor's desk and slated to be signed on Saturday, the day after Indiana's legislative session ends. The other two have passed both houses of the legislature, which is hammering out minor differences between each house's versions. Concurrence is expected Wednesday, and Indiana officials say Daniels likely will sign them next week.

By July 1 of this year, the new education laws will take effect and be primed for national inspection should Daniels be a GOP candidate for president in 2012. That prospect is looking more likely to the prognosticators inside the Beltway than it did just a month ago, even though for Daniels, not much has changed. A presidential campaign has remained a possibility for him for at least the last year, and if he runs, the theme he has planned will be all about his record as governor. Education reform completes the picture.

In a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett boasted of the new initiatives, "This is the most aggressive, far-reaching legislative package in the United States when it comes to reforming education in one fell swoop."

Added Brian McGrath, the executive director of Daniels' Aiming Higher PAC: "We did it all in about four months." Recalling that, a la Wisconsin, a handful of Senate Democrats left the state earlier in the year over a dispute about a labor bill, McGrath noted, "Take out the five weeks [the legislature wasn't] in session and it's even more impressive."

Daniels' administration studied education reforms around the country and persuaded education experts ranging from Michelle Rhee to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to come to Indiana and offer guidance. The Sunshine State, under Bush, had implemented the most aggressive reforms over a several-year period, but an aide to Bush said with the new reforms, Indiana will surpass Florida.

Bush tipped his hat late Tuesday to Daniels' achievement in trumping him, telling RealClearPolitics, "Because of the dedicated and bold leadership of Gov. Daniels and Superintendent Bennett, Indiana is leading the nation in having the most comprehensive set of reforms to improve the quality of education." (The former Florida governor's endorsement is among the party's most coveted, and it's no secret that a big chunk of his admirers stand ready to go to bat for Daniels if he runs.)

Nevertheless, every Hoosier interviewed for this story pointed out that education reform would have been on the top of Daniels' list this year whether or not he chooses to seek the presidency, but some pointed out that the national attention has helped them make the changes to education they wanted to make.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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