GOSHEN — As the Horizon Education Alliance prepares to make a pitch for county support later this month, more people are stepping up to advocate for Elkhart County’s newest education venture, including county prosecutor Curtis Hill.
Hill voiced strong support for Horizon on Thursday and encouraged the Elkhart County Council to take a serious look at how the group’s plans could impact the future of education.
“I think it’s a known fact that in Elkhart County the value of education is well below where it needs to be,” Hill said.
Horizon plans to make a formal proposal to the council Sept. 28 to add the organization’s first two staff members as county employees. While their salaries would be covered by public school and business contributions, the county would be responsible for paying up to $64,000 in benefits over the next 16 months.
Horizon is a collaboration among business leaders, public schools, nonprofit groups and hospitals to provide programs and services that enhance education in Elkhart County from early childhood through adulthood, county commissioner Mike Yoder explained. The goal, he said, is to develop a better educated workforce by preparing children for their next level of education, whether that’s kindergarten, elementary school, high school or beyond.
Yoder said county government will see direct benefits from Horizon’s achievements.
“We will see reductions and savings particularly in the criminal justice area if we are successful,” he explained. “That’s how deep and far-reaching this plan is.”
Hill agreed, adding that the effect on the criminal justice system has been at the forefront of conversations with Horizon’s leaders.
“The solution to these problems is not locking people up,” he said. “The solution to this problem is developing education at a very early stage. This is a great opportunity to actually create solutions for the problems that exist in our educational structure with fresh ideas going forward.”
Yoder thinks the county council will be impressed with the scope of Horizon’s proposal to transform education. The Elkhart County Board of Commissioners unanimously endorsed the organization’s plans Tuesday.
“This is something that Elkhart County needs,” board president Terry Rodino said. “It’s going to have a resounding effect for years to come. For us not to participate or have people think we don’t want to participate is just sending the wrong message.”
If approved by the county council, benefits for the two Horizon employees — executive director Brian Wiebe and research assistant Aliah Carolan-Silva — would come from the county’s environmental special projects account, which has a balance of about $186,000. There are no other plans designated for those funds, Yoder noted.
But not everyone is on board with Horizon’s plans. Peter Recchio, co-founder of the Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition, has voiced opposition to the organization’s proposal to use county resources to help Horizon get off the ground.
“I don’t see the Horizon program as a takeover of education, as some people have suggested,” Hill commented. “I see it as an opportunity to develop a collaborative process with the school corporations, with the private sector, with families and various entities to understand the issues and what we can do about them.”