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Legislators hear from educators

State Sen. Jean Leising, center, addresses educators at thea legislative forum Saturday at the Whitewater Career Center. Sen. Jeff Raatz, left, and Rep. Cindy Ziemke also participated.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Educators deal with many issues daily and legislators have issues brought to them from all aspects of state government. Three area legislators listened just to educators on Saturday.

The Fayette County School Corp. hosted state Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, and Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, at the Whitewater Career Center. Raatz is chair of the Senate Education Committee and Leising serves on the committee.

Currently, 51 percent of the state budget goes to kindergarten to 12 education, 12 percent to higher education and 13 percent to Medicaid, with about two-thirds of that funding to seniors in care facilities, Leising said.

Many have called for an increase in funding for teacher pay. Legislators can provide money but local school boards determine local pay. 

To aid local boards, Gov. Eric Holcomb is considering paying about $150 million from the state surplus to fund teacher pensions. That would free local money, possibly to increase teacher pay.

Ziemke and Raatz liked the idea. Raatz said legislators do not know how the raises would be sustainable in local districts and are awaiting those numbers before acting.

Raatz also said that an additional $268 million is being requested for the Department of Child Services in addition to its current funding. Most of the state’s increase in revenues will go to DCS.

Virtual schools, home schooling

Raatz said there is a place for virtual schools but the state is reviewing standards to make sure students are being well served.

The first question from the audience had to do with lack of oversight for homeschooled children.

Parents who homeschool their children for the right reasons and support their children do a tremendous job, Raatz said. That is the main reason it is difficult to regulate homeschools.

“The homeschool crowd does not want money, do not want to be part of the virtual system, they want to take care of it 100 percent by themselves,” he said. “Those do it right.”

The problem is that when parents take their students out of public school for homeschooling, the state can’t track progress of the kids. Some are in a home life that is not conducive for learning, he said. There are some requirements that when a student leaves a school, the parent must present a plan for education.

Superintendent Scott Collins said the state does not follow the kids and the parents are not held accountable. Schools are held accountable. Maybe the legislature should consider regular check-ups on the children.

Leising talked of an intern she had who was homeschooled but did not have some of the skills needed to do her job. She now has sympathy for the educators’ point.

An educator suggested getting more data because there may be a move to get students to go to homeschool because it helps school graduation rates.

Standardized testing

Teachers are frustrated that much of their performance evaluation is based on a test that results are very slow in being received.

Raatz said testing came as a result of federal legislation that requires it in every state.

“Do we drop the test questions down and have a less rigorous test?” he asked. “Simply not having a test or making it easier for everybody is difficult. We want to have students who are educated and able to do basic work. We need to be aware as a state how students compare to other states.”

Leising said she had asked at committee hearing how much weight is placed on test results in teacher evaluations. The superintendents answered it varies from 5 percent to 40 percent.

Other issues

A school social worker asked the legislators to consider giving teacher support in areas of mental health because of home situations where no educational support is given to the children and it is sometimes an abusive situation.

Ziemke is a member of the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee. She has worked on public and mental health issues. Fayette County is the worst rated for health conditions and Indiana is low among the states. Educators have taken on a parenting role and the state needs to give educators support in those areas.

“So many legislators do not understand what our rural poverty looks like,” she said. “Our educators have to try so hard to provide for those children.”

School Board President Leslie Jacobs, who organized the session, was pleased with the morning’s results.

“I think they (legislators) heard some things that they can now take back and be better informed,” she said. “This was a tough crowd but if it raises their awareness, no matter how they end up voting, I always say ‘information is power,’ the better they can decide.”