- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The (Munster) Times. March 22, 2018

Get back to work: Legislature left top matter of school safety on the table

The beginnings of a response to one of our Region, state and nation’s most pressing issues failed to clear the Indiana General Assembly before close of session last week.

Left on the table before the Statehouse lights went dark on the 2018 legislative session was a plan to authorize $5 million in additional school safety funding.

Given the national incidence of mass shootings, many of them involving schools, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is showing appropriate leadership by recalling the Legislature to finish its work in May.

The $5 million proposal is a shallow dive into what needs to be a much deeper conversation and policy considerations for improving safety and security for our schoolchildren.

But it signals a good start, and this is not the type of business that should be left unfinished.

It also should have been handled within the confines of a 10-week legislative session that lacked the robust schedule of recent years.

Now lawmakers must return to the Capitol building in Indianapolis at an estimated cost of between $15,000 and $30,000 per day to address the school security funding and other business left undone.

Taxpayers should remind their elected officials that we expect them to work within the confines of deadlines as most of us must do in our family lives and places of business.

In this case, the stakes are high. Inaction on a measure to enhance the safety of our children isn’t acceptable in any political climate, much less the one in which we currently find ourselves as a nation.

It’s time for lawmakers to get back to work and finish the job they were hired at the ballot boxes to complete.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. March 20, 2018

Governor tries to clean up after state Legislature

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb made a compelling case for calling on members of the Indiana General Assembly to return to Indianapolis for a special session in May to complete business left unfinished when the regular session ended in unsatisfactory chaos.

He made it clear he wants a limited agenda for the special session. Though legislators can bring up what they want to, he said in a news conference his focus is strictly on “what needed to be tended to right now, what was urgent, what was time sensitive, what would cause confusion if not dealt with, what would have a cost of compliance and what that would mean to Hoosier taxpayers.”

His issues are school safety and federal compliance when it comes to tax reform.

He will meet with legislative leadership soon and will “be politely encouraging” the focus to stay on issues that were heading for legislative approval and his signature in the first place.

“We should not bring new items to the table in a special session,” he said.

He’s absolutely right.

Holcomb acts like an adult in Indianapolis, shying from placing any blame for the failure of the General Assembly to complete its work on time. But to review: The Republican Party, Holcomb’s party, controls both the House and Senate by huge margins but squabbled enough internally that issues the governor believes rise to a level of urgency so great a special session must be called did not receive attention. The clock simply ran out because of the inefficiency and ineptitude of lawmakers.

So the governor was left to make a choice: wait until 2019 to try to bolster school safety and make sure the state is in compliance when it comes to tax laws, or act now, at an estimated cost of $30,000 a day to taxpayers.

Holcomb addressed the cost forcefully, saying, “Whatever the cost is dwarfed by the cost of inaction.”

That may well be true - just as it may well be true that once you’ve made the mistake of taking a baseball bat to all the windows in your house, the cost of fixing them would be dwarfed by the utility bills you would need to pay and the discomfort you would suffer if you didn’t spend that money up front.

The point is, you shouldn’t have broken out all those windows, just as lawmakers shouldn’t have failed to finish their work on time.

The governor is doing what he has to do. Calling for a special session to add funding options designed to keep schools safer, to help Muncie schools continue to operate and to avoid potential problems for 3.5 million Hoosier taxpayers can be justified. It’s too bad it has to be.

Lawmakers must fix the broken windows left open on the items outlined by the governor. Not doing so would add to the damage their failures have caused.

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South Bend Tribune. March 21, 2018

Support for the public’s right to know

Hoosier lawmakers have been criticized for not accomplishing much in this session.

In at least one case, we’re glad they didn’t take action.

The Indiana House did the right thing by not overriding Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of 2017’s House Enrolled Act 1523.

The measure would have imposed a $20 per hour search fee for public records requests from the public or members of the media that take longer than two hours to complete. It was no less than an assault on the public’s right to know and would have weakened Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.

Supporters of the bill have said they believed that the fee would deter abusive public records requests or nonspecific searches that gobble up public employee work hours.

Last week, the House voted to sustain Holcomb’s veto, his first.

Our problem with the bill was the same one we expressed with a similar bill introduced in 2015: It places an unfair burden on members of the public in obtaining records that belong to them. That earlier bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Mike Pence, who offered this tweet at the time: “The cost of public records should never be a barrier to the public’s right to know.”

In a letter last year to House members, Holcomb said that while he appreciated the good intent behind the bill, he viewed HEA 1523 as “contrary to my commitment to providing great government services at a great value for Hoosier taxpayers.”

Legislators opted to back his decision, defeating a bill they never should have passed in the first place. They can further serve the interests of their constituents and the public at large by making sure this bad idea isn’t brought back to life in future sessions.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. March 23, 2018

Making the grade

Indiana schools have won the latest round in a battle over a school-grading plan that would have harmed schools and students and enriched out-of-state testing companies. But stay tuned - only intense pressure from educators slowed the ill-considered plan.

In a work session Wednesday, members of the Indiana State Board of Education agreed to put on hold a proposed overhaul of the A-F grading plan. It doesn’t mean schools won’t receive letter grades, but it likely means they won’t be subjected next year to measurements that would have wrongly tagged many schools with failing marks.

Board member Byron Ernest’s call to postpone debate came as a surprise Wednesday. The board was expected to discuss the proposal this week and consider it for approval April 4. An earlier recommendation to postpone was rebuffed, and State Board of Education staff initially tried to limit public comment to a couple of hearings in Indianapolis.

Board member Steve Yager, the former Southwest Allen County Schools superintendent, called for hearings to take place statewide. In six sessions, more than 125 people addressed the board - unanimous in their criticism of the grading plan.

The problem with the proposal is that it places greater emphasis on test scores, even as a backlash grows over the class time allotted and tax dollars spent on standardized testing. An earlier draft that would have measured both academic proficiency and growth at the high school level was dumped in favor of a plan that ignored growth and required all Indiana students to take a college entrance exam. Pressure to use the SAT exam is coming from the General Assembly, where one member is a senior vice president with the College Board, which administers the fee-based test.

Assuming the proposal is not approved later this spring, Indiana schools will receive two grades this year and next - one based on a 2016 state plan and a second required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. With significantly different performance measures, the two grades are likely to differ for the same school.

The postponement is the first clue that the appointed members of the State Board of Education are paying attention to educators and other members of the public. In December, with hours of testimony condemning a high school Graduation Pathways plan, a majority of board members voted to approve it. School officials across Indiana are now struggling to implement the plan. Fort Wayne Community Schools‘ recent proposal - since dropped - to eliminate the honors program is evidence of that struggle.

State Board member Cari Whicker, who has joined Yager in opposing the board’s accountability proposal, said Wednesday the changes have been frustrating.

“Either A-F accountability or testing has changed every year since 2011,” said the Southern Wells Elementary School principal. “That’s a lot for schools. What you consider tweaking is truly moving the target for people in the field.”

Yager said Thursday he hopes the state board will take its time going forward on the A-F proposal.

“I hope we take the two years to do the analysis and some research and use practices from other states to make sure we are doing this correctly and that we don’t harm students by making one change and then another change,” he said. “We need to be transparent as a board and try to keep our focus on what’s best for kids in the classroom.”

That’s most likely to happen with continuing pressure from the education community and the public.

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