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State lawmakers share their thoughts on this year's education bills

The Indiana Statehouse sits off Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis.
Brandon Smith
/
IPB News
Lawmakers passed myriad education bills this year that will impact students and teachers across the state.

Lawmakers passed a flurry of bills this year that will have a wide impact on education in Indiana. Those included efforts to combat low reading scores, promote work-based learning and prepare for new graduation standards.

Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) praised lawmakers’ efforts to pass legislation related to Indiana’s high school redesign and work-based learning.

“It's trying to kind of connect the dots between K-12 and the workplace and trying to make the transition a little bit easier so that high school is more relevant,” he said.

Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) said she thinks lawmakers are doing too much too soon when it comes to getting students real-world experience.

Lawmakers passed a new work-based learning program last year that pays for businesses to hire local students through Career Scholarship Account funds. They voted to expand that program again this year.

“I'm a big proponent of the apprenticeship model and of work-based learning,” she said. “I think that what we've been doing last year with (House Bill) 1002 and this year with (House Bill) 1001, it's chipping away at that. We need to slow down.”

Hunley said improving apprenticeship opportunities and literacy were major areas of focus during this year’s legislative session, but lawmakers could have done better.

“I do believe that we fell short on both of those areas, especially with literacy, and that we're doing it in a way that is punitive to children and families by forcing third grade retention,” she said.

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The proposal to hold back most third graders who fail the state’s reading proficiency exam was one of the more controversialeducation bills. However, Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) hailed the bill’s passage as a win for students.

“We accomplished what we set out to do when it came to reading in third grade and making sure that students have every chance possible, personally, to be able to pass IREAD-3,” he said.

Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), the bill’s author, dubbed her proposal “Every Child Learns to Read.” She said she expects this year’s legislation to play a key role in getting students back on track with reading.

“I think this year we had some great education bills that really are going to hopefully move the needle,” she said.

However, Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) said there were points where lawmakers missed the mark this year. He said he hoped for a different solution to the state’s reading crisis.

“We had many missed opportunities,” he said. “I started a session with legislation to deal with the literacy problem in our state by proposing universal pre-K for the entire state.”

Qaddoura said his proposal did not advance because of the cost involved. This year was a non-budget session, so lawmakers were not able to attach additional funding to legislation unless the money was already available.

Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) said he thinks lawmakers jumped to a solution too quickly before exploring all the possible barriers that keep kids from learning how to read.

“There’s a lot of questions that are still unanswered in my mind,” he said. “For example, I kept asking in committee, and I kept asking other people, why aren't our kids reading at the third-grade level? Let's get that answer and let's craft a solution around that, as opposed to just the sledgehammer of retaining kids.”

Ford said he saw plenty of both good and bad education bills this year, but he is happy there were fewer proposals based on culture war issues.

“To me, that's a huge win for Hoosiers because we're focusing on the issues that I think matter most to people, as opposed to the cultural, social war issues,” he said.

Lawmakers are already looking ahead to next year.

“Universal pre-K and early childhood education continues to be a very high priority for me,” Qaddoura said.

Hunley said next year’s budget session will allow lawmakers to better fund reading initiatives and potentially strengthen education programs that help students and teachers.

Ford said one of his main concerns looking ahead is low college attendance. He plans to learn more about why high school graduates are not going to college and whether there are better options for those students.

He said he is hopeful lawmakers will have a summer study committee on education this year so they can enter next year’s budget session focused and prepared.

Raatz said big changes to education policy are often controversial. However, he said he wants the state to make progress.

“There's always something to do in education, there's no doubt about it,” he said. “The opportunities are great and the benefits are great. … Conceptually, (we should) not change just to change. But, we want students to have the best outcomes possible. And that requires change.”

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.