- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The (Munster) Times. February 9, 2017

Governor should pick education head

The state of Indiana and its education system still bear the scars of political infighting and one one-upmanship that characterized the relationship between the former governor and former superintendent of public instruction.

The battles for power and undermining that took place between former Gov. Mike Pence and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz were both damaging and embarrassing for the Hoosier state.

It didn’t have to be this way, and a bill pending in the Indiana General Assembly deserves strong consideration so fierce infighting between these two offices never happens again.

Nearly all states leave the appointments of top education officials to the governor.

It makes sense. As the elected executives, governors should have both the power and the accountability to shape education policy.

But Indiana currently elects its state education superintendent, setting the stage for partisan gridlock in one of the state’s most important functions.

Setting policy and tone for the quality of our children’s education is too important to leave to such gridlock.

Indiana Senate Bill 179 would allow the state’s governor to begin appointing the top state education official beginning in 2021, if expected amendments go through.

It wouldn’t disrupt the term of recently elected Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, whose term expires that year.

The Indiana Constitution currently leaves the mode of selecting state education superintendents up to the General Assembly.

SB 179, sponsored by Indiana Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, is an appropriate way of eliminating potential political gridlock hovering over education policy.

Contrary to what opponents of the bill would argue, it doesn’t take power out of the hands of voters.

It simply places ultimate education policy authority in the hands of the state’s highest elected official - the Indiana governor.

The legislation is the most logical step forward for setting the state’s education policies while maintaining accountability.


The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. February 10, 2017

Budget break: Brown’s bill offers schools chance to ease transportation budgets

Nowhere has the strain of property tax caps been as apparent as on school transportation budgets, with districts across Indiana struggling to meet rising costs with declining revenue. Fort Wayne Community Schools was looking at a shortfall of almost $3 million two years ago when it cut its fleet by more than 50 buses and eliminated service to students who lived closest to their neighborhood schools.

For the third consecutive year, Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, has offered a bill to help relieve the strain. Senate Bill 85 passed the Senate on a bipartisan 44-4 vote this week. It should be approved by the House, as well.

“What this does is change the existing law to allow (a tax-increment financing fund) to be invaded if the redevelopment commission chooses to do so,” Brown told the Senate Appropriations Committee last month. “It’s not a mandate - it’s a may, not a shall. And it allows the school transportation fund and public transportation fund only to ask and request those dollars.”

Brown noted that if the dollars are already committed to support projects within the TIF districts, a redevelopment commission would not be able to share the revenue with a school district or public transportation agency.

TIF districts promote development in a designated area by collecting and allocating property tax revenue generated by increases in assessed value. The revenue comes only from the designated district, but it currently can be spent only for improvements in that district.

Fort Wayne spokesman John Perlich said the city administration supports Brown’s bill.

“Children in our city deserve to have safe and reliable transportation to and from school. We need to be willing to invest in our future to provide opportunities for children to grow and succeed through education,” he wrote in an email. “Not all of the TIF revenue that the city of Fort Wayne receives would be able to be allocated to schools and public transportation corps due to other commitments that are already in place and/or planned. A portion of TIF revenues could likely go with approval from the Redevelopment Commission and City Council, which would be necessary.”

Even a portion of the funds would be welcome relief for the cash-strapped transportation budgets. Statewide, an estimated $2.3 million could be available to public transportation corporations and $34.4 million for school transportation funds.

The legislation has passed the Senate three times now but hasn’t yet had a hearing in the House. It should - it’s one small tool for helping schools and public transit in the very places where tax caps create the greatest budget strain. Brown deserves credit for her persistence; her bill deserves support from the House.


South Bend Tribune. February 10, 2017

Finally, justice for Keith Cooper

Keith Cooper, who spent nearly a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, has said that a pardon from the governor would allow him to leave his past behind.

On Thursday, he finally got what he had been denied for so long.


Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that he had issued a pardon for Cooper, who was convicted and served more than eight years in prison for an October 1996 armed robbery in Elkhart.

Holcomb’s pardon frees the Chicago native from the unfair sentence he’d been handed. He experienced another sort of injustice from former Gov. Mike Pence, whose general counsel had advised Cooper to first exhaust all of his legal options before requesting a pardon. Given the years that had been taken from him by a flawed process, it’s unthinkable that he’d be asked to sit tight and wait for that same system to get things right.

In 2005, an Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Cooper’s co-defendant. Cooper was given a choice: a new trial before the same judge that convicted him or go free with a felony on his record. With his family struggling to get by in a homeless shelter, he chose to go home instead of battling it out in court.

In 2014, the Indiana Parole Board unanimously recommended that Pence pardon Cooper. That recommendation was supported by a former Elkhart County deputy prosecutor and the victims in the crime. Pence declined to pardon Cooper before he left office.

As a candidate for the office he now holds, Holcomb had said he would move “swiftly” to pardon Cooper if the facts bear that out. In announcing his decision at a Thursday press conference, one month into his term, Holcomb said it was based on a review of those facts.

“I did so because since that conviction in 1997 - many pieces of information that were out and about that had been brought forward since have changed, including a victim, an informant, even the deputy prosecutor who convicted Mr. Cooper on that first crime, all have stated support or no objection to a pardon.”

It couldn’t be clearer that correcting this injustice was the right thing to do. Credit the governor for recognizing what his predecessor didn’t.

“Keith Cooper has waited long enough and is deserving of a pardon,” Holcomb said.


The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. February 9, 2017

Trustees right to add voice against ban

The Indiana University Board of Trustees should be commended for making a public statement at the board’s meeting last week opposing President Trump’s executive order restricting international travel and banning it from seven nations.

The trustees’ position came in the form of a resolution of support for President Michael McRobbie’s Jan. 29 statement noting the university embraced openness to the world and continued: “the executive order … is contrary to the very core of our values as an institution committed to excellence and innovation, a diversity of community and ideas, respect for the dignity of others and engagement in the economic, civic, cultural and social development of our state, our nation and our world.”

It was an unusual move, in that the trustees typically stay clear of making statements on such divisive political issues.

However, it was an important signal for the trustees to send. It shows the university stands united in support of international students and scholars.


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