One of my strongest reasons for seeking office was the ever-increasing "brain drain" in our rural communities. This past legislative session I authored the Young Entrepreneur Bill to give our communities the opportunity to attract these talented young people and their businesses to our communities, as well as supported legislation which gives counties and communities more economic development tools in attracting companies. That is a good start.
The transition to "the money follows the child" school funding formula uncovered the elephant in the room as I saw virtually all of my rural school corporations losing money primarily due to a loss of children in the classrooms. With the help of the Department of Education and our Statehouse Legislative Services, I now have a better picture of the statewide trends. Prepare yourself - it isn't a pretty picture.
· Over the past 10 years, Indiana's rural schools have lost an average 5 percent of their school's student population. By 2013, that number is projected to increase another 2 percent.
· Over the past 10 years, Indiana school corporations encompassing towns have lost an average 4 percent population. By 2013, that number will increase another 1 percent.
· District 74, excluding Warrick County School Corporation which is dominated by Newburgh outside of District 74, our loss has been an even greater 8 percent. By 2013, it is estimated to increase to 10 percent.
· The winner in school population growth has been the suburban schools which have seen an astounding 20 percent increase over the past decade.
The obvious question is, why? My hypothesis is that, though our census numbers in our rural communities showed us as virtually flat, we have lost a key population segment: our young adults ages 25-40. Few young adults and families in our communities lead to fewer children in our schools. However, that is only the beginning of the problem.
If we don't have young, skilled adults, we also don't have new homegrown businesses springing up on Main Street and beyond. If we don't have young, high intellect adults choosing to live in our communities, there is little purchasing power to invest in high-end homes providing the much needed property taxes counties need to maintain infrastructure. And, if we don't have young adults, we don't have the next generation of leaders in our communities helping to make our communities a vibrant and attractive place to live.
USI economists will be quantifying the demographics of our rural communities using the new 2010 census data. This study will define the shifting age groups and magnitude of the problem. I expect this data within the next couple of weeks. Then the hard work to craft legislation and community strategies which will make our rural communities attractive to young adults and industries which will hire them. It is not an easy problem. However, I trust that, given the facts, we will be able to develop creative new strategies and legislation that will "bring them home".
I invite you to send me your insights, what you see as the biggest challenges, and your ideas on how we might make our communities attractive to young adults and families. If you are highly passionate about this topic, you are invited to join a team that will meet over the coming months to creatively problem solve and "slog through" to create solutions and 2012 legislation. E-mail me with your contact information and why you are interested. The best ideas will come from ensuring all points of view are around the table. Republicans, Democrats and Independents are all invited. This is not a partisan issue, but our District's future. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at H74@in.gov. Please put "Grow Our Small Towns" in the subject line to assist me in tracking your responses.
Or, if you would like to respond online, please visit www.in.gov/H74 and click on Grow Our Small Towns.
Thanks for allowing me to get on my soap box. I look forward to your help and ideas as we spend these next few months dialoging and thinking outside the box on this very important issue.
Have a wonderful week as our weather turns towards summer. And, please give farmers and all those affected by the devastating floods your assistance, well wishes and prayers. It is this kind of support that makes southwest Indiana a great place to call home.