- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The (Munster) Times. July 19, 2017

Show us Hoosier road results quickly

It’s been billed by our governor as “the largest nonstop sustainable building program that our state has ever seen.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb also has said Hoosiers across the state will soon “see” and “feel” the results of a newly passed $4.7 billion infrastructure project.

It’s paramount that the governor, state transportation officials and lawmakers ensure they make good on these promises of tangible road improvements - and quickly.

State lawmakers, including Indiana House Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who led the road-plan charge, showed both wisdom and bravery in shepherding a 10-cent-per-gallon fuel tax through the last legislative session.

That tax took effect July 1, and we’re already experiencing the higher pump prices as a result.

That tax is aimed at bringing our most important infrastructure - the roadways that link our points of commerce and way of life - back to respectability.

We’ve consistently argued the tax plan was both worthy of support and necessary to our state’s long-term viability.

But now the state must demonstrate in the most tangible ways possible how it’s making good on promises to make our American crossroads the envy of the Midwest and nation.

The road plan has identified 1,295 bridges for rehabilitation, 9,628 miles of roadway for resurfacing and another 122 miles of additional roadway as top priorities throughout the state.

Hoosiers deserve to see a constant flurry of activity as these plans come to fruition.

In turn, we all must exhibit patience as the state makes good on its promise, slowing down in construction zones, leaving earlier for destinations and keeping level heads on busy roadways under remediation.

Many state leaders, not the least of whom was freshman Gov. Holcomb, have promised these tangible results.

We all must hold them to it, keeping a watchful eye peeled for fresh asphalt, hardhats and construction signs dotting Hoosier highways.

It’s time for Hoosiers to get the roadways we deserve.

___

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 19, 2017

Underachievement-Federal ruling could undermine Indiana’s general diploma - and students’ futures

For most students, a high school diploma is the first of many credentials needed to advance in college, the skilled trades or military service. For some students facing challenges, it can be the ticket to a job and independence. Indiana’s general diploma allows those students the opportunity to succeed to the best of their abilities, but a new federal interpretation of graduation rates devalues general diplomas.

It’s another disappointing twist in a decades-long battle over what a high school diploma should represent. It’s also a clue the new Every Student Succeeds Act isn’t going to deliver on its promise of more flexibility for the states.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick recently advised schools that students earning the general diploma will no longer count toward a school’s graduation rate. With 8,612 general diplomas awarded statewide last year - or 12 percent of all diplomas - their exclusion will mean falling graduation rates for Indiana schools.

Most Indiana students earn an Honors diploma or a Core 40 diploma, but state law wisely makes a general diploma available to students who fall short of passing the required Core 40 courses. Last year, the general diploma graduates included 2,561 special-needs students with Individualized Education Plans, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Superintendent Chris Himsel of Northwest Allen County Schools noted other deserving graduates:

“I believe many of the general diploma graduates have IEPs or are career/technical students who likely missed a Core 40 or Technical Honors Diploma by one or two courses (most likely Algebra 2, Integrated Chemistry and Physics, or Economics), encountered medical issues which caused them to focus on the bare minimum to graduate in four years because of time missed to receive medical treatment, or persevered to graduation, instead of dropping out, with the help of many resources and overcame obstacles that most of us have never encountered firsthand, or even imagined,” he said in an email.

It’s important for Indiana to offer a general diploma option because not all school officials are as sympathetic to students with special circumstances. Disability advocates know there is a danger of some students being written off if schools, mindful of accountability regulations based on graduation rates, steer students to a certificate of completion instead of a diploma. A 2016 law requires schools to inform parents of all available options for students because some didn’t realize until graduation day that a certificate of completion is not equivalent to a diploma.

Indiana policymakers have squabbled for years over graduation definitions, but the current designations strike a good balance. They satisfy accountability demands without ignoring the real challenges some students face. If general diploma recipients aren’t counted as graduates, however, graduation rates will fall. If the federal guidelines had been in effect for the 2016 school year, the statewide graduation rate would have fallen from 89 percent to 78 percent.

ESSA, the federal education law that replaced the widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act, was supposed to give states more flexibility, but the opposite appears to be happening. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a primary author of the federal legislation, complained last week after an undersecretary to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said it was the agency’s responsibility to set achievement standards for states because the new law did not.

“We tried to liberate them with this new law, and now we have language coming out from the Department of Education that suggests they better slow down because the department is going to start telling them what to do again, playing ‘Mother may I?’ ” the Tennessee Republican told Education Week. “And I want to stop that before it starts.”

In the meantime, state Superintendent McCormick’s staff is examining the graduation rate issue and will offer recommendations to the State Board of Education. It will be a shame if pressure from the federal government forces Indiana to discontinue a diploma track giving special-needs students and others their best hope for the future.

___

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. July 20, 2017

A chance to get answers on income tax

A crucial moment in Vigo County’s future comes later this month.

The nuts and bolts terminology of the event causes eyes to glaze over, but the details are important for every resident. The County Council meets in special session at 5 p.m. July 31 in the Vigo County Annex building at First and Oak streets. The county commissioners asked the council to conduct the session as a public hearing to consider an increase in the county’s local income tax from 1.25 percent to 2.25 percent.

That additional 1 percent packs even more numbers. It includes a 0.25-percent special special-purpose tax to pay for construction of the much-debated, new county jail, estimated to cost $60 million not counting its financing fees. Also included is a 0.75-percent public-safety income tax to fund police and fire departments, as well as fire protection districts for the county, the city of Terre Haute and the towns of West Terre Haute, Riley and Seelyville. And, a 0.1-percent slice of the tax (known as a Public Safety Access Point, or PSAP) would cover 911 dispatching expenses.

The July 31 hearing offers citizens a chance to air their opinions on the proposed tax. No vote will be taken by the council, the elected body charged with implementing local income taxes, under Vigo County’s governmental structure.

While the seven-member council will run the meeting, one council member said, “the commissioners can answer questions of some of the people on why they need a tax increase.” Questions for the commissioners would likely center around the jail’s size and pricetag.

The group of public officials present to field questions should also include Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett. The city’s well-documented financial problems involve a general-fund cash deficit, lingering since 2011. The largest portion of city expenses goes toward police and fire services. The infusion of perpetual public-safety income tax funding would significantly alleviate the budget crunch. Still, residents of the entire county deserve detailed information as to why the added 0.75-percent public-safety tax is necessary and what budget cutting already has taken place.

Fifty-one of Indiana’s 92 counties have a public-safety local income tax. Vigo is one of the 41 without one. Among public-safety taxes in Hoosier counties, the largest are Jennings’ at 1 percent and Marion’s at 0.50 percent. If enacted, Vigo’s 0.75 would become the state’s second-highest public-safety local income tax, the Indiana State Budget Agency confirmed Wednesday.

The new 1-percent overall local income tax would amount to an additional $400 a year for residents earning $40,000, Vigo County’s median household income. County residents already pay 1.25 percent in local income taxes, which is less than some neighboring counties. Clay residents pay 2.25 percent, and Parke residents 2.65, while Sullivan’s stands at 0.30 and Vermillion’s at 0.20.

Along with the impact on residents’ incomes, the community must also consider its future and the need to have a solvent and efficient city and county, vibrant enough to keep its young residents from moving elsewhere to live, work and raise families.

The public will have lots of questions about the plan, and the July 31 public hearing should be an ideal opportunity to get answers.

___

South Bend Tribune. July 18, 2017

Will Indiana finally end its Sunday sales ban?

Figuring out Indiana’s incomprehensible and outdated alcohol laws is enough to drive a person to drink.

But not on Sunday, of course.

And no cold beer if you’re buying from a convenience store.

See what we mean? The state’s confounding, confusing liquor laws - most notably its antiquated ban on Sunday carryout sales - have been in need of overhaul for years. No, it’s nowhere near the most pressing issue facing Indiana, but as any Hoosier who’s wanted to grab a bottle of wine while picking up groceries on a Sunday afternoon can tell you, it’s inconvenient and annoying. A poll last month found that an overwhelming majority of Indiana residents favor expanding cold beer sales in the state and allowing carryout sales on Sunday.

But change may finally be coming, according to a member of the legislative summer study group tasked with untangling the outdated snarl of laws. In an interview this month with the Lafayette Journal & Courier, state Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, says he expects Sunday sales to happen. Indeed, he believes that dealing with this piece of the alcohol issue - “getting that over and off our plate” - ought to be a priority.

Supporters of lifting the Prohibition-era ban may be forgiven for thinking “Here we go again” at Alting’s prediction. For years, there’s been talk of lifting the ban; for years strong opposition from the state’s powerful liquor store lobby has helped keep it in place. Just two years ago, a sponsor of a bill to legalize Sunday alcohol sales announced that “Prohibition is over” - only to pull his bill a month later for lack of support.

We’ve long advocated that there’s no good reason for banning Sunday liquor sales by retail stores in Indiana. The state long ago gave up the notion that alcohol may not be sold on Sunday, and for years it has been available by the drink in bars and restaurants. So the store sales ban isn’t really a “blue law” anymore in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s a law that favors one type of business (package liquor stores) over another (grocery and convenience stores).

Asked if there’s a chance that nothing will come of the study group meetings, Alting said “No, I don’t think that will … That will not happen.”

Well, we certainly hope it doesn’t. But after years of fruitless attempts to change the status quo, yet another failure wouldn’t be a surprise.___

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