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New York should follow the lead taken by Indiana

States are a lot like stores. In both, top-level decision making can influence whether they attract business or lose it. Understanding this, Indiana is upgrading one of its key "products," which too often collects only dust on other states' shelves. New York may want to take inventory.

This year, Indiana lawmakers made dramatic improvements to the state's K-12 education system to empower teachers and principals and provide families with more schooling options.

One of those acts reformed collective bargaining so that only school employees' wages and benefits can be negotiated. No more will school leaders be hamstrung by such contractual provisions as "faculty meetings are limited to one per month." If principals and teachers are held accountable for school performance, it is only right to let them run those schools as they see fit.

Also, "last in, first out" was ended. Now, if teacher layoffs occur, the "last in" and oftentimes younger faculty -- some of whom might be great teachers -- won't be indiscriminately fired first.

In addition, Indiana lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of students wanting to attend online schools. Now, Hoosiers, who find traditional public schools unsuitable, will have more educational options from which to choose.

Private schools also play an important role in serving families; however, those schools typically are accessible only to parents who can afford them. In response, Indiana enacted what will be the nation's largest school-voucher program, making nearly 60 percent of Hoosiers currently in public schools eligible for vouchers that can be used to cover private-school tuition.

Recognizing that tuition also can be a burden in higher education, Indiana state leaders passed a measure allowing Hoosiers to leave high school early and use part of their senior-year public funding for public and private colleges. Why hold kids back if they're ready to learn more and thus move on?

How did Indiana engineer these major changes?

State leaders simply focused on students and their needs. On the hierarchy of whom public education is supposed to serve, somewhere along the way students fell from first. Faculty, programs and buildings took priority, which compromised education's chief purpose.

Successful enterprises always concentrate first and foremost on their customers' wants and needs. To that end, building stores and rewarding employees -- although integral -- are ancillary. The customers come first.

Indiana is making that the goal of public education, as evidenced by the aforementioned reforms and, above all else, the choice-based measures. After all, the best barometer of customer satisfaction is whether they're coming or going. If New York leaders want to know whether their schools are meeting state residents' needs, they should open the doors and find out.

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Jeff W. Reed is a state programs director with the Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Milton and Rose Friedman.

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