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Lawmakers mull funding to address Elkhart County school officials’ concerns

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz spoke at the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.
Posted on March 23, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 23, 2013 at 5:38 p.m.

ELKHART — Local school officials’ concerns that they’ll fall short in funds to bus students haven’t fallen on deaf ears among state lawmakers in Indianapolis.

State Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, said Saturday, March 23, that he’s hopeful officials will be able to include some money in the 2014-2015 state budget to address the worries, at least partially.

“I hesitate to say we’re going to solve the problem,” said Yoder, speaking at the Third House gathering of state lawmakers sponsored by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. “I think we’re taking some steps ... to try to find some relief for you.”

Yoder’s comments came in response to a query from Elkhart Community Schools Superintendent Robert Haworth, who says reduced funding due to property tax caps is hampering many school districts’ ability to cover transportation and other costs. The Goshen and Concord school districts, too, are facing imminent shortfalls.

“This is a 2013 issue. It’s happening right now,” Haworth said.

The upshot of the limited funding could be more students having to walk to school as districts scale back their busing offerings. That didn’t sit well with Yoder.

The notion of children having to walk two miles to school in the early morning hours, before sunrise, “troubles me a lot,” he said. “Frankly something’s got to be done. One mile’s too much to walk, in my opinion.”

Indiana Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, alluded to Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed income tax reduction, saying the funding that proposal would eliminate could instead be used to help address concerns like Haworth’s. Neese opposes Pence’s proposal, saying the funds it would save could be better used to help shore up education and road improvement programs.

PRESCHOOL FUNDING, MATH, SCHOOL GRADES

The funding question was just one of several education issues to come up at Saturday’s gathering. Notably, Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz appeared at the meeting, discussing a myriad of education issues and taking questions from the packed audience.

Ritz covered a lot of ground, discussing everything from funding for preschool education to math standards:

Ÿ Pre-kindergarten programs: Ritz opposes two proposals to provide public funds for preschool education, at least now, saying the matter merits closer study first.

For one thing, there are no established state standards on preschool instruction, and that needs attention first. There are preschool offerings already out there and she said she wants “to know what they’re about, how they’re making them work.”

Pinning down those sorts of details, plan boosters could come back to the Indiana General Assembly with a more specific plan of action.

Ÿ A-F grading system: Ritz said the school grading system needs to be overhauled and should be based more on the individualized performance of students. She has voiced opposition to the new A-F letter grade system for schools.

Any system should be able to pinpoint where individual students are “on the continuum of learning” so that instruction can be tweaked to address their particular strengths and weaknesses.

Ÿ Relations with Republicans: Ritz is a Democrat in a state bureaucracy that’s heavily GOP.

Even so, she and the GOP reps on hand Saturday said they’ve developed a working relationship.

“I would say it’s been a good thing,” said Yoder. “I think we need to vet out all these issues. We need to hear these different viewpoints.”

Neese said Ritz “has not at all been adversarial. The Republican leadership and Ms. Ritz have been working well.”

Ÿ Vouchers, math: Yoder expressed support for House Bill 1003, to expand the state’s school voucher program. Ritz and Neese expressed opposition.

Ritz also indicated support for a review of the education standards in Indiana, starting with math.




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