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3 state lawmakers to talk of schools

News-Examiner

Three state lawmakers are expected to be in Connersville Saturday to confer with regional school officials about educational issues being considered by the Indiana General Assembly.

The Fayette County School Corporation board will be hosting a regional Legislative Breakfast for the Indiana School Boards Association. It will be at the Whitewater Career Center.

The Indiana General Assembly began its 2019 session last week. Educational issues such as teacher pay are on the session’s agenda. As it stands now, many observers expect there won’t be enough money in the budget to provide much in the way of additional funding for education.

Leslie Jacobs, the local school board president, has arranged Saturday’s meeting and secured the attendance of Sen. Jean Leising, Rep. Cindy Ziemke and Sen. Jeff Raatz, all of whom represent Fayette County and other parts of the ISBA region.

Jacobs said, “Educational issues and funding for education will be coming up during this legislative session and several issues are of key importance to those interested in public education.”

FCSC Superintendent Scott Collins said, “With various education topics, such as education funding and increasing teacher pay, being discussed among state legislators currently, we are closely following information coming from our governor, state legislators and Department of Education.”

Along with teacher pay, the General Assembly will be looking at the school funding formula, which provides money to school corporation’s based on student enrollment. Other issues include the school start date, teacher appreciation grants and school safety.

Jacobs is a member from Region 6 on the ISBA Legislative Committee. She draws a connection between educational performance and teacher pay.

“To begin, Indiana ranks 36th on spending for education in our nation, with teacher salaries ranking at 30th out of the 50 states. Given inflation, teachers earn 16 percent less than they did two decades ago. Governor (Eric) Holcomb, who initially stated his support of increases in salaries for teachers, has now said he wishes to ‘study’ the issue for two years before making any decisions.”

Holcomb has stated that one of his legislative priorities is to get more funding for the Department of Child Services. He has said that and other spending will leave little additional for education. He has pointed out that the state does not control teacher pay; local school boards set those rates. However, the state does provide money to fund local schools.

Jacobs is hopeful the legislature will look at the school funding formula. 

“Other funding issues that will also be coming up in this General Assembly are Teacher Appreciation Grants and School Safety Grants. With the slow rate of growth in funding for public schools, these additional funding sources are critical to the operation of safe schools and incentives we can provide our teachers to compensate for losses in funding received from the state.”

Local schools may award Teacher Appreciation Grants as a salary stipend to high performing teachers. 

“There will also be discussion of funding preschool, particularly for at-risk student populations and in communities such as ours, which have high free and reduced lunch populations,” Jacobs said.

Raatz has said he expects to see the legislature take up rules for virtual reality education, teaching through use of home computers. He also said there might be action to move up the date for making the state superintendent an appointed position, rather than elected.

The date for starting school in the fall might be discussed. She said, there is “a push to move the start date to after Labor Day. This bill would take the decision making away from local control, and each district’s locally elected school boards and superintendents ...”  

The ISBA provides legislative lobbying on behalf of school boards as well as services such as training for board members and expert advice.