This is a long session of the Indiana General Assembly, which means legislators are crafting the two-year budget for the state. As I have written before, this is the issue that will dominate the session and the only thing they must get done, but there will be other issues that get discussed.
Before the session got into full swing, we knew that education was going to get quite a bit of attention. The House Republican Caucus, the Governor, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and other groups released their legislative priorities and they included a variety of education matters.
The General Assembly’s website makes is relatively easy to look for legislation. The site can be searched by specific bills (if you know the number), by legislator, and by subject. The subject listings are cross referenced, so users can find legislation by looking under a number of terms.
To help make the point about education being a major focus of this session, just look at the number of bills under the subject heading “Schools generally (k-12).” There are 54 bills in this category and they cover a variety of subjects.
State Senator Dennis Kruse is from northeast Indiana and chairs the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. In recognition of the importance, and broad interest, there is in the bills this committee is hearing, the meetings have been held in the Senate Chambers and not in one of the smaller committee meeting rooms. The committee has been meeting every week and by the end of February 4th will have held hearings on 16 bills. On one hand it may not sound like many bills, but keep in mind what is included in that list of 16 bills.
· Senate Bill 500 (SB 500) is over 300 pages long and seeks to make significant revisions to the Indiana Code regarding the administration of schools and school corporations.
· SB 566 would replace the ISTEP with a new test called Benchmarking Excellence Student Testing program (BEST). (On a side note, there are 11 bills under the subject heading “Schools, ISTEP and testing programs.”
· SB 259 would create a new program allowing a handful of high schools to offer STEM associate degrees.
· SB 277 would require a school counselor in every public elementary school.
· SB 169 would require reading evaluations for students by grade 2 and reading deficiency remediation plans (IREAD) be executed in grade 3.
Senator Kruse has been following a specific procedure for the committee this year. Bills get a hearing in one week and then amendments are offered and a vote is taken in a later meeting. Usually this happens the week after the hearing. This can mean that some people will want to be in Indianapolis for an Education and Career Development in consecutive weeks which can be a bit of a burden, but that burden is outweighed by at least two things.
First, the meetings can be watched on the internet. Since public testimony is taken in only one of the meetings, there is not much reason to travel to Indianapolis for the second meeting. Second, this procedure means people have more time than they do with other committees to contact committee members to express support or opposition or suggest amendments because other committees might only have one hearing on a bill.
The legislative session is just over a month old and there are potentially three more months to go. While the budget will come to dominate the session, there still are plenty of other important issues to watch. Education is just one of them.
Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.
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