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Legislature focuses on education
Evan Shaw
Friday, February 08, 2019

      This session, the statehouse is focusing on a plethora of education bills that stand to address mental health resources in schools, teacher pay and resource allocation. The bills come on the back end of teacher strikes in California, West Virginia and other states. 

      The House GOP agenda, which was released in January, outlined early on priorities in Department of Child Service reforms, infant mortality, teacher pay and school safety. Another agenda, from the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, also prioritized issues like teacher pay. 

      “The several bills working together to increase teacher pay are critical. We are having conversations with education groups like the Indiana State Teachers Association, Teach Plus and Stand for Children to put more dollars in teachers’ paychecks, support newer and aspiring educators and provide career advancement opportunities. There is not a single solution out there that will fix all the issues concerning teacher pay and retention, but with these priority bills, we are taking action to get money to educators quickly and have ongoing conversations to continue supporting teachers,” Cindy Kirchoffer, Republican, said; she is the House representative for District 89, which covers portions of Warren Township.

      Organizations like the ISTA, Teach Plus and Stand for Children have all made themselves represented in the legislative process to strike in an environment with heightened awareness around teacher issues.

      “This being the long session biennial budget year, HB1001 would have to be high up on the list of most school board members.  Funding for public schools is very important. This is how we pay our teachers and support staff, keep the lights on, etc. When you consider inflation, public schools are $295 million behind 2010 for current funding. Public schools have been put on the back burner by legislators. It looks as though a lot of the money available is going to go to other areas. However, to keep up with inflation, we would like to see a 2.5 percent increase each year for public education,” Julie French, Warren school board member and legislative liaison, said.

      Governor Eric Holcomb has proposed a two percent increase in the budget for K-12 education. Not only is the budget and the opportunities given to public education a focus for French, but she also focuses on bills she views as detrimental to districts like Warren. 

      “HB 1641. This one, called Charter Schools Matter,  is bad for public school corporations. While it does several things, one thing it does to public schools is to make the public school corporations that run a referendum give some of the money to charter schools in the area. I believe for our district it is between 5 and 6 percent of what we were approved, of which would be between $250,000-$300,000 a year on our referendum we passed in the spring.  So the local public school/community does all the work to promote  the referendum, establish the need for it, provide  the manpower and fund the costs of it, but then is required to give the area charter school a percentage of the funds,” French said. 

      At the annual legislative forum for Warren Township on Jan. 26, which was attended by Warren legislators, like Robin Shackleford, the chair for the IBLC, and city councillors representing parts of the school district such as David Ray, another bill discussed by the panel was Senate Bill 132. SB 132 would require high school students to pass a civics test to graduate. 

      “The statehouse currently has a history putting too much emphasis on testing and bleeding off public school money to private schools. Indiana is about to have its third standardized test in less than five years. It takes several years after new standards or a new test is used in order for it to effectively measure what it is designed to test.  There is a certain learning curve for educators and students for every new test, and they have been changing so rapidly no one has been able to catch up to it,” Rachel Burke, school board vice president, said. 

      At the same forum, the state’s influence on local school district expenditures was a common theme. From teachers to school board members like Burke and French, many favored more autonomy and choice from state regulations. 

      “It’s always best to put the control in the hands of local school boards and districts. Local schools know what’s best for their students and educators. When it comes to how we are funding education, it must be a joint effort between local school boards and administrators working with the state. This ensures we are using the funding most effectively,” Kirchoffer said.

      The legislative session just began in January, meaning the status of bills and goals of legislators and school representatives could change over the session. However, both legislators and school representatives stress cooperation and community involvement.

      “Call and email your state representatives and senators!  Those calls and emails matter! I testify before committees several times a year on various education-related issues.  But honestly, collective voices make the most impact,” Burke said.