- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The South Bend Tribune. Oct. 7, 2015.

First steps toward redistricting reform.

Many Hoosiers may not be aware of a task recently undertaken in Indianapolis by a dozen Hoosiers. Some might not care too much if they were.

But they should.

Last week, the special interim committee on redistricting had its first meeting to begin considering alternatives to the state’s redistricting process. Created when the General Assembly passed a bill that set up an 18-month study on the issue, the committee is made up of legislators and laypeople. Among the options the eight lawmakers and four citizen members will study is an independent redistricting commission, which some other states have done.

That’s good news for all Hoosiers. Over the years, both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of a system that gives the legislature responsibility for drawing its own legislative and congressional districts. The resulting maps make it easy for incumbents to get re-elected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive. The real losers are the voters, whose role in the political process has been minimized.

Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indiana have praised Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, whose layman appointment is former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm, a Democrat with extensive experience with redistricting. Choosing the best person for the committee job, regardless of that person’s political affiliation, shows the speaker “is serious about redistricting reform,” they said in a recent letter to the editor in the Indianapolis Star.

Less encouraging is a report of the committee’s “rocky start” last week. An article in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette said it was clear in the initial meeting that “not everyone agrees there is a problem.” Two legislators who were in leadership positions when the current set of district maps was drawn defended them as compact, saying they keep communities of interest together.

This defense of the status quo ignores the reality of a redistricting system that the nonpartisan Fair Vote calls a “blood sport” that allows incumbent politicians to “choose their voters before the voters choose them.”

Changing the system here in Indiana starts with the work of the committee, which is tasked with offering its recommendation by Jan. 1, 2017. But ultimately, reform requires the public to demonstrate its interest and investment in such a change.

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The Munster Times. Oct 9, 2015.

Methodist launching major construction efforts.

Methodist Hospitals is pouring money into both its Gary and Merrillville sites, which is good news for the region.

Its 10-year master plan includes spending $103 million on the Southlake campus and $31 million on the Northlake facility.

Soon the hospital system will break ground for its emergency department and 12-bed intensive-care unit. The current facility will be turned into a six-bed trauma and surgical ICU.

“Overall, it will improve and increase the capacity of our emergency department to see patients,” said Wright Alcorn, vice president of operations for Methodist Hospitals.

That $10 million project is the beginning of Methodist’s 10-year plan.

Methodist hosted a bidding event for local and minority subcontractors.

“We want to be transparent with the community in terms of what we’re doing and make sure we open up opportunities to minority vendors and other vendors in the greater Gary metropolitan area,” said Ray Grady, CEO of Methodist Hospitals.

Methodist recently received approval from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights for the project, a result of the 1979 consent decree that requires the hospital system to provide the same level of service at both hospitals.

“Although the proposed expenditures are heavily tilted toward Southlake over Northlake, OCR concludes that the construction projects … are ‘equitable,’” the agency wrote in its letter. “All of the expenditures fulfill need for the hospital’s diverse patient bases within the service areas from which the hospital draws its patients.”

Methodist says the Merrillville facility needs more work.

The current project, as well as future work, is good news for the region, especially given the commitment to securing local and minority subcontractors.

Methodist and other area health systems are pouring money into better facilities for the region. That brings not only needed construction jobs but also improved health care.

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The Evansville Courier & Press. Oct. 7, 2015.

Foster parents a growing need.

Indiana has long had an issue with caring for children in need of foster care. However, the pressure reportedly is growing in regards to the urgent need for foster parents.

The Associated Press reported this week that the number of children in Indiana in foster care rose to 13,134, an increase from 10,550 a year earlier. The report said that includes children living with relatives as well as those in residential facilities. That is according to Department of Child Services spokesman James Wide.

The Lafayette (Ind.) Journal & Courier reported in the AP story that the state is trying to find more foster parents because of a growing need, mainly due to drug use among parents.

The increasing number of children in need of foster care is making it more difficult to find local placements. The report said if caseworkers are unable to find a foster family to take in a long-term placement, they may have to place a child in a temporary foster home. Also, the report said difficult placements may result in children being placed in other parts of the state.

Obviously, what the state would like to find is more options for placement, and the main goal is to reunify families. But in the end, the primary need is to find good, healthy, safe care for foster children.

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The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Oct. 8, 2015

Addressing a need.

Indiana clearly has work to do, first in serving homeless children and then in reversing the trend of their increasing numbers.

In the five years since the Great Recession, the number has increased by 81 percent, according to figures from the Indiana Youth Institute. The 16,000-plus Hoosier homeless students in Indiana public schools need much more than academic instruction, and their personal lives make classroom progress much more difficult to achieve. The preoccupation with standards and testing will do little to help students who come to school tired, hungry, under stress and uncertain of what lies ahead.

Indiana isn’t alone in seeing increasing numbers of homeless students. Nationwide, it’s been on the rise since 2009. It has continued to climb even as unemployment has fallen. The latest federal data show 1.36 million homeless children in the 2013-14 school year. Most are “doubling up” - living with family and friends - but the uncertainty and instability are the same as for those without an address.

Barbara Duffield, director of policy and programs at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, told the Washington Post the national increase could be driven not just by the economic downturn but also by schools’ improved efforts in identifying and counting homeless students.

Indiana’s homeless student figures used data provided by the Indiana Department of Education. For northeast Indiana, the numbers all showed steep increases: Huntington County grew from five to 61; Noble County from 10 to 85. Allen County school districts reported a 62 percent increase to 638 homeless students, but the figures are likely greater.

Fort Wayne Community Schools provided services to 716 students who experienced homelessness at some point last school year, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman told The Journal Gazette’s Ron Shawgo.

As the numbers increase, schools are finding new ways to serve students. They protect privacy by planning bus routes so that children in shelters or motels are the first picked up in the morning and the last dropped off at the end of the day. They arrange for locker rooms to be open so students can shower in the morning. They send backpacks full of food home each weekend and make snacks available in classrooms.

Those additional services don’t come without costs, however. As long as any Indiana school serves students with no permanent place to call home, the state must take care to ensure the services they need are in place.

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