- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Evansville Courier & Press. March 16, 2015.

Should have stuck with Common Core

It strikes us now - and it really has for months - that Indiana’s educational hierarchy could have saved money and trouble by sticking with Common Core, or at least with the state’s original school standards and tests.

Instead, the Republican majority’s effort to please the tea party and other groups has kept the state in what seems to be an ongoing, expensive mess.

The latest episode finds the state recommending to award nearly $134 million in contracts to six vendors to run student testing. Surely, it would have been less expensive to stand pat.



We have had our differences with Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, but on this latest issue, we are starting to see it her way. On these latest bids, Ritz said the costs are “astronomical.”

“I strongly believe that Indiana needs a streamlined system of assessments that come at a reasonable cost to taxpayers,” Ritz said in an Associated Press news story. She said her office learned of the estimated costs after the bidding process was completed last week.

Legislative action could impact the bids. Indeed, one bill in the assembly could move Indiana from its ISTEP+ exam to a national test called BEST (Benchmarking Excellence Student Testing) in 2016. Also, one of the bill’s sponsors, Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, said he thinks Indiana would be better off using an “off-the-shelf” set of tests. But education officials said such tests would not align with the new academic standards the state created after deciding last year to withdraw from Common Core.

Originally, Indiana was the first of many states to adopt the Common Core standards created, not by the federal government, but by states working together. However, opposition to Common Core grew quickly, by conservatives and others who felt Indiana should create its own standards. Thus, Indiana last year withdrew, with the support of Gov. Mike Pence and other Republican leaders.

What has happen since then is that instead of creating an education program within Indiana, as intended, the state is now shopping around for existing programs. That is not where the state was headed when it dropped out of Common Core in favor of a state-centered program.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. March 13, 2015.

Can Hoosier State line be saved?

If there’s any glimmer of hope of saving the Hoosier State passenger rail service from Indianapolis to Chicago, it’s the growing list of players on board in condemning a Federal Railroad Administration ruling that sent the most recent contract negotiations into a skid.

Service will end April 30 for the four-day-a-week service that makes stops in Lafayette if the Indiana Department of Transportation can’t close a deal that would have Amtrak crews operating Iowa Pacific Holdings rolling stock. That deal hasn’t exactly been a slam dunk, given the contentious way the state and Amtrak - which runs the Hoosier State line now - have come at negotiations over the past few years.

But the Federal Railroad Administration really gummed up the works in a new way, telling INDOT that it had to operate as a railroad if it entered this new public-private partnership. In a letter dated March 6, Karl Browning, INDOT commissioner, said there was no way. He said the state couldn’t afford the liability that came with that - not to mention that INDOT, slow to warm to being forced into dealing with passenger rail in the first place, wasn’t looking to do even more work to keep the Hoosier State alive.

The Hoosier State’s contract was due to end April 1, but on Friday, Browning allowed one more month in hopes that the Federal Railroad Administration would reconsider.

Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana, joined the local, state and congressional calls for the federal agency to reconsider. Coats summed up the situation in a letter to Sarah Feinberg, Federal Railroad Administration acting director: “INDOT does not fit any common-sense definition of a ‘railroad,’ so communities along the (Hoosier State line) are rightly puzzled by the FRA’s decision.”

They were, in fact, puzzled. And more than slightly.

Puzzled that after Congress threw Amtrak lines under 750 miles to the states to fund by October 2013, the federal government piled an additional regulation on a state that tried to work out a plan intended to improve service, increase ridership and eventually chip away at the $3 million in government money it takes to keep the line running.

The case going to the federal agency now hinges on the state acting as a contractor - just cutting the check, as state Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, put it - and not the operator of the train. The Federal Railroad Administration’s party line is: The state should have the ultimate responsibility for safety in the new partnership, and that means acting as a railroad.

So, like, when does the train run, exactly?

The position raises questions about how Amtrak’s short lines are run in other states and whether the Federal Railroad Administration’s order for Indiana could undermine service elsewhere. So far, that isn’t clear.

The only thing clear, even with Friday’s one-month extension, is that the clock is ticking on the Hoosier State and seven-day rail service in Lafayette. (Amtrak’s Cardinal line, running from Chicago to New York City, comes through Lafayette three times a week.)

This isn’t some random stand on federal-vs.-state principle. This is a line the communities along the route have persuaded that state to keep. This is a line the communities along the route have chipped in money to keep going until a longer-term plan could be found.

There has to be a way to figure this out.

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South Bend Tribune. March 12, 2015.

A familiar argument for public records

A bill making its way through the Texas Legislature caught our attention recently.

According to a recent article in the San Antonio Express-News, the measure would specify that campus police departments are governmental bodies even if they are at a private institution.

Sound familiar? The issue is similar to one in Indiana in which the University of Notre Dame maintains that its campus police force is not subject to the Indiana public records law.

The proposed legislation in Texas was prompted by an August 2013 incident in which Rice University police officers struck a bicycle thief with batons. The university, which is in Houston, declined to release records to the media in response to public records requests, arguing it was exempt because it is a private university.

There have been occasions when Notre Dame security police also have declined to release information, citing the argument that a private university is exempt from public disclosure laws. In the most recent case, The Tribune sought police records from Notre Dame related to a September 2014 incident in which a man was seriously injured in a fall down a stairwell in the university’s Main Building.

ESPN has taken it one step further and is suing Notre Dame for law enforcement records pertaining to student athletes. An April 1 hearing is scheduled in the case in Superior Court in South Bend.

We believe the issue of compliance with public records laws remains unsettled. Officers on Notre Dame’s security police department have the same authority as other officers throughout the state and can use that authority to make arrests, carry out investigations and seek criminal charges through the prosecutor’s office.

Rice police “are licensed by the state of Texas, so they ought to be covered like other police departments,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the Texas legislator who sponsored the bill. It’s heartening to see the Texas Legislature taking up this important matter. The argument being made by Whitmire is similar to the one we have made regarding the Notre Dame security police department.

It’s time for the courts to settle this issue about the public’s right to know.

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The Herald-Times, Bloomington. March 11, 2015.

Hoosier lawmakers find reasons to break from pack

U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., has made no secret of his opposition to many of the policies of President Barack Obama. Thankfully, he chose a much more diplomatic path in opposing Obama than 47 of his Republican colleagues who signed a letter to the leadership of Iran.

These senators were trying to undercut foreign policy efforts being made by the president and his administration. The band of 47 warned the Iranians that they shouldn’t make a deal with the president because he wouldn’t be in office after 2016, but many of them would be.

Members of the U.S. Senate and the president play for the same team: the United States. This action was similar to members of a basketball team throwing a game because they don’t like the game-plan drawn up by the coach and the players who support him.

It’s one more example of the negative impact of runaway partisan politics that pass for governing in Washington.

Coats was one of seven Republicans who didn’t sign the letter. He did not release a statement of explanation, but when contacted, his office sent out this comment:

“Over the past six years, Senator Coats actively has pressed for a settlement with Iran that stops the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons capability. He does not think the current negotiations track is likely to lead to that result because the Obama administration has given away too much, too quickly. Senator Coats also believes that Congress must approve any deal negotiated with Iran and is supporting legislative steps to make that happen. He does not believe that these two interrelated goals are best served by an open letter to the Iranian regime.”

He clearly doesn’t agree with the approach the president is taking, but he does not think bypassing the legislative process with an open letter to Iranian leaders is an appropriate action.

First, U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R.-Ind., broke from a majority of his party to ensure that Homeland Security would be funded through the end of the year. Now, Coats breaks with a vast majority of Senate Republicans who want to go rogue on foreign policy.

Both these actions serve Hoosiers well. They show a pragmatic view of a responsibility to the nation over the political pack.

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