Indiana is on a roll. Unemployment in our state has declined from more than 8 percent when I was elected Governor to 5.7 percent today. Since 2009, the drop in our unemployment rate is the fourth largest in the nation. We have added more than 83,000 private sector jobs in the past two years, and our real GDP growth led the Midwest last year.
Our economic performance as a state is complemented by a strong fiscal position.
Our budgets are balanced with no gimmicks and no new debt. We have held the line on spending and maintained strong reserves.
Even as we have made significant investments in infrastructure and education, we have maintained adequate reserves. Reserves are the last line of defense in a recession, and we guard them fiercely.
To keep Indiana competitive, we have cut taxes. Last year's reduction in our income tax rate was the largest state tax cut in Indiana history. We've provided $185 million in tax relief for job creators, eliminated the inheritance tax and reformed taxes on business equipment.
To keep Indiana on a roll, we need to keep innovating and investing in our future. And without question, investing in high quality education for our children is our top priority.
We've made great progress as a state in recent years. High school graduation rates are up, ISTEP scores have increased, and Indiana ranked second in the nation in total growth on NAEP—the nation's report card.
Four years after its launch, Indiana's school voucher program is the largest in America. Four out of five voucher students are enrolled in A or B schools, and the percentage of A and B public charter schools is increasing.
Despite our progress, we still have more than 100,000 students in D and F schools, and 170,000 in C schools. Only three percent of students in career and technical education earn an industry-recognized credential, and we still have too many kids dropping out of high school.
We must do better. The future prosperity and happiness of Hoosier children demands that we do.
That is why I propose that we set goals to have 100,000 more students in A and B schools and five times the number of high school students receiving industry-recognized credential by 2020.
To accomplish these goals, we need to do three things: fund excellence, promote choices for families, and fix what is broken.
I have proposed a plan of action based on this vision.
First, traditional public schools need more freedom to innovate and pay good teachers more. That's why I have proposed Freedom to Teach schools. Under my plan, schools can submit plans to the State Board of Education requesting waivers from a wide range of requirements in order to gain the freedom they need.
Second, because public charter schools have improved choices for families and helped raise the quality of traditional public schools through competition, I have proposed that we establish "fairness in funding" in our public school system. Charter schools currently operate at a significant per-pupil funding deficit. We need to fix this in order to see more high-quality charters open their doors in Indiana.
Third, we need to lift the dollar cap on vouchers and increase the amount of the tax credit available to people who provide private scholarships to disadvantaged kids. This will create more choices for more families and raise outcomes for kids.
Fourth, we need to change how we fund career and technical education courses so that more high school students choose to specialize in a course of study leading to high-wage career options, whether they want to get a job or go to college after graduation.
Fifth, in order for us to fund excellence and increase choices for families, we need to fix what is broken. I have proposed that we get politics out of education in Indiana and begin fixing the overly complicated way that we oversee education policy in Indiana. I have chosen to dissolve the Center for Education and Career Innovation as a first step. I have also called on the General Assembly to allow the State Board of Education to elect its own chair, a common practice among state boards in Indiana.
We have the opportunity to take Indiana to an entirely new level. Our state is strong and growing stronger. Now is the time to promote excellence in education that matches the excellence of the people in our state.
Mike Pence is governor of the state of Indiana.
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