ISTEP testing starts this week for Hoosier students, including those in Elkhart County.
They'll sit at computers and takes tests that assess their academics.
It's a big test. And it's a big deal. It's been called a high-stakes test.
But another high-stakes test will be put before Elkhart County adults on May 6.
That's the date of the primary election in Elkhart County. And for Elkhart County children, there has probably never been a primary election day that's this important.
How children and teens are educated and protected in our community hinges on what happens on a week from Tuesday.
Concord and Elkhart schools systems are both going to voters with school referendums. More than half - 54 percent of Elkhart County voters - can vote in one of the two referendums.
Residents in either district are assessing whether the school system needs the money for which it's asking. The state's property tax caps are prompting schools to find new ways to fund annual budgets.
Elkhart Community Schools officials are seeking $47 million. Passing both parts of the referendum would raise taxes for 13 cents to 18 cents per $100 valuation for seven years and 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation for the next 12 years. Officials have said it'll cost the average resident in its district the equivalent of a Big Mac every month.
Concord Community Schools officials are asking for yes votes to get $28 million. The tax rate would go up 40 cents per $100 assessed valuation, raising taxes at least $10 a month for homeowners and more than $50 a month for some over the next seven years.
If you believe that the schools need the money and you owe it to Elkhart and Concord students to help, you should go vote yes.
If you believe that the schools should find ways to live within their means, you should go vote no.
But either way, you should vote. There's too much at stake to not vote. How our community educates approximately 18,000 students will change based on the results on May 6.
The judge of Elkhart Superior Court 3 handles criminal cases involving children. Judge George Biddlecome is retiring and four Republican candidates are running for his seat on the bench.
Any judge seeks to uphold laws, but the judge in this Elkhart County court in particular protects children by how he or she applies the law. It's a key position. And voting for someone who can do the job capably is important.
A number of candidates in key positions, including sheriff and county prosecutor, are unopposed in the primary, but two Indiana House races are contested, and two men - Frank Lucchese and Rick Easton - are running for county commissioner. Candidates are seeking the Elkhart County auditor and recorder offices, which affect how records are handled and taxes are collected.
It's easy to say that any election is important, that voting carries forward our democracy. But this election has a different set of issues than some. And the results of the referendum votes are likely to dramatically change our schools.
Chris Anderson, chief deputy clerk of Elkhart County, said that so far 721 people have filed absentee ballots. He's heard from a number of people unaware that any election is coming up.
Rather than going to a specific precinct location, voters will go to 25 voting centers this year. That means if you live in Goshen but work in Elkhart you can vote at an Elkhart center. It's bound to cause confusion. But in the long run, it's more efficient to vote this way.
Tuesday, May 6, is a huge day for Elkhart County. How a majority of Elkhart County students are educated will be affected by how a community votes. The turnout should be tremendous.
How to vote:
1. Make sure you're registered. You can check online or call Elkhart County Voter Registration, located in the the lower level of the County Office Building, 117 N. Second St., Goshen. You can call 574-535-6775 or 574-535-6774. This office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 8 to 4 Tuesday to Friday.
2. Make sure you have a state-issued or federally-issued photo ID that has your photo, name and an expiration date that hasn't passed or expired after Nov. 6, 2012.
3. Cast an absentee ballot by noon Monday, May 6. You can do that at one of four locations:
• Goshen - County Administration Building, 117 N. Second St., Room 108
• Elkhart - County Courts Building, 315 S. Second St.
• Nappanee - First Brethren Church, 1600 N. Main St.
• Middlebury - Town Hall, 418 N. Main St.
4. Go to one of the 25 polling centers on Tuesday, May 6. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. County officials say that it may take a bit longer to cast a vote this year because of the changes.