[r31] Let's clear the air (3/4/2011)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Start Date: 3/4/2011 All Day
End Date: 3/4/2011

It's no secret that education has been one of the big issues this session, and to say that it's controversial would be an understatement.

When the education bills received a committee hearing, we heard several hours of heated debate and public testimony. I'm sure you heard about the teacher rallies going on at the Statehouse, with teachers cheering and shouting in the hallways about legislation being debated.

The feeling in the hallway was that the Republican members were causing too many waves in education reform -waves that weren't appreciated. But believe it or not, the legislation they were opposing was authored by both a Republican and a Democrat.

There were about a dozen amendments proposed by Democrats that were added to the charter school bill that made the bill better. There are going to be more amendments that I think will improve House Bill 1003; unfortunately, we haven't been able to hear those amendments because of the walk-out.

Members from both sides of the aisle have come together to propose legislation that would benefit current and future generations of Hoosiers by preparing them for the ever-changing economy. While the concepts seem simple enough, there has been a lot of misinformation going around about these proposed ideas - more specifically, charter schools and scholarships. Some of that misinformation includes that charter schools would cherry-pick their students and that collective bargaining would end, but neither are true.

Any legislation that comes before the House, legislators receives a write up, which includes a fiscal impact report on each bill. That information comes from a nonpartisan organization called the Legislative Services Agency, meaning they don't have any influence from one party or another. That information is one part of what I use in deciding if a piece of legislation is worth a "yes" vote. The other part is the voice of my community.

So let's clear the air. In the current proposed budget, education funding would be preserved at the same level. Nothing is being added, but more importantly, nothing is being cut. Indiana's financial situation does not have any room for funding increases; on the other hand, we cannot afford to cut funding and deny our children the resources they need to be properly prepared for their future.

We are, however, getting rid of the de-ghoster method in education funding. Indiana needs to fund the students that are actually enrolled in each school vs. funding the institution. We have pushed for years to even out the disparities between schools that get too much per-pupil funding and the schools that get too low of an amount.

Throughout my term, I've kept an open mind and an open ear, to address the issues and concerns that people have. My family and I have welcomed several teachers into my own living room to come discuss their concerns and ideas. Sometimes these conversations have lasted until midnight.

Not only have I met with teachers, but I've met with area superintendents, which spurred the decision to host my recent education forum. This opened up the discussion even more, by allowing parents, teachers, students and anyone interested in the issues to participate in a group discussion. I was also able to bring the House chairman of the Education Committee and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, to the table. It was not the first time I've met with those from our community, and it certainly won't be the last.

When I was elected last November, I was sent to the Statehouse to be the voice of those in my district. That is an obligation I take very seriously.

In order to represent our community, I need to know what's on your mind - whether we agree or disagree. As a representative, I vote for the will of my district. However, it's hard to vote for the will of those in our district when there is so much misinformation going around.

Hearing all sides of an issue is the only way to make an informed decision, so I want to hear from you. You can email me at H31@IN.gov, or reach me by phone at 1-800-382-9841. I'm always willing to have a discussion.