New faces in the Indiana Statehouse this year signal changes but members of
the Porter County Retired Teachers Association are still steadfast in their
hope of seeing improvements come to public school systems.
Questions surrounding education and pension funding took up most of the
association’s legislative forum at Bailly Elementary on Saturday morning
attended by state Senators Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, and Ed Charbonneau,
R-Valparaiso and state Representatives Chuck Moseley, D-Portage; Ed Soliday,
R-Valparaiso; and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
Association Vice-president Ralph Ayres, who moderated the forum, said
legislators will struggle through the rest of the General Assembly setting
the state budget for the next two years.
“That is really going to dominate the discussion between now and the end of
April,” Ayres said to the crowd of about 90 people including Duneland,
Valparaiso and Portage School officials.
From school to
Tallian, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate’s Appropriations
committee, said Governor Mike Pence’s proposed budget increases education by
about $150 million, or a third of what has been cut since 2010. Pence in his
State of the State Address said an increase will be given to fund full-day
kindergarten and teachers’ pensions over the next two years.
With the hikes, education will take up 64 percent of expenditures in the new
Charbonneau surmised that schools are close to reaching the same level of
funding that was seen in 2008, while Moseley later argued that the new
figures do not factor in the state’s 2.5 percent inflation rate.
More school money will be directed to two areas this year – pre-kindergarten
education for low-income children and vocational programs for those needing
skills to enter the workplace, Tallian said. A proponent of funding
kindergarten in the K-12 budget, Tallian told the audience she has
reintroduced a bill to make kindergarten education mandatory and feels it is
likely to get a hearing this year.
Meanwhile, Pelath is calling for better training programs to fill a large
number of jobs unfilled because there are not enough qualified candidates
for those available jobs. Giving support to the Department of Workforce
Development is a way to invest in the future and build a stronger income tax
base, he said.
While responding to a question posed by an audience member of whether the
state would be better served without a federal department of education,
Soliday said it must be realized that schools need to educate students to
prepare them to compete in a world market.
Dwelling on the same question, Moseley said it comes down to lawmakers
determining what should be done that would make a better student. “This is a
big change we need to think through,” he said.
Pelath said he believes agencies working together rather than against each
other would produce the greatest outcome. “People want cooperation in
education and not competition.”
Soliday said it doesn’t matter by what percentage the state increases
education funding; what’s more important is how it is distributed which
seemed to be on the minds of audience members who submitted questions on the
Soliday said the formula, as it is, primarily aids two types of schools –
the urban schools in Gary and the rapidly growing such as those in suburbs
of Indianapolis. Stable schools like the school corporations in Porter
County, such as Chesterton High School, are the ones that see the least
“There’s got to be a new paradigm in how we get kids to graduate from high
school,” Soliday said. He advised teachers to “be careful in what you
advocate for” given the formula’s partialities.
Pelath expressed high hopes for Indiana’s new Superintendent of Public
Instruction Democrat Glenda Ritz, whose election he believes showed the
state was tired of former superintendent Tony Bennett’s experimental-type
pieces of legislation and the “wild-west expansion of legislation of charter
schools.” He believes people are ready to get back to arguing for the
advancement of traditional public schools.
“We need to bring some good, old Hoosier sense back to education and that’s
what we are trying to do,” Pelath said.
Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to repeal
some of the policies imposed by Bennett, including one authored by
Senate Bill 416, co-authored by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Goshen, proposes to
abolish the A to F grading system for school performance and restructure it
with new criteria for state evaluation of schools based on student growth.
“It comes back to accountability and responsibility. When you’ve got a
process that nobody understands, it’s wrong,” Charbonneau said.
Charbonneau added he also finds flaws in the voucher system to give state
money to private schools. “We need to be biased towards a public education.”
The audience also applauded Moseley’s news that the HB 1080 to give retired
teachers their “13th check” has passed favorably out of the Ways and Means
What to do with
Having a budget surplus over the past years has caused ongoing debate about
whether the cuts made to get there were good decisions, but Charbonneau said
he is proud of the fact the state has been a model of fiscally
“(In) any other part of the country, they want to talk about how we are
doing in Indiana,” he said.
With that surplus Pence, in his State of the State address last week and in
his campaign, has proposed lowering the state income tax by 10 percent.
Soliday said he and other state officials are “not in love” with that
Tallian added that the tax cuts would mean $750 million less for the budget,
something that the general public isn’t “clamoring” for after seeing four
years of cuts.
“Now that’s a lot of money [to lose] to give everybody back $50,” she said.
“Do we restore the money to K-12 education or do we (give) tax refunds?”
Pelath said having conservative fiscal management says something about what
the state’s priorities are but the state should live up to the promises it
made to public schools which have not been met in terms of funding.
In further comments about Pence as the new chief, Soliday said governors do
not always get what they want, even when they are in the party of the
Tallian said it is interesting being in the minority to see how “things play
out” when there are disagreements between the governor and the Republicans
in the House and Senate.
The change in leadership means new behavior and attitudes, Moseley said, and
he anticipates there will be more communication and progress in this year’s
“We are not Washington. We are better than that because we can work
together,” Moseley said.
Pelath said each leader is “stylistically different” the contrast he sees
between Pence and his predecessor Mitch Daniels is that Pence is open and
clear about what he wants to get accomplished.
Acting in bipartisan fashion, Pence is working with Pelath and his
Republican counterpart State Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on something
they all think is important, which is HB 1002.
The bill would create a 15-member Indiana Career Council to implement more
training programs for Hoosiers to gain skills needed for available jobs. The
Council would include the governor and the superintendent of public
instruction, along with representatives from Family and Social Services and
workforce development, Pelath said.
Lastly, Pelath said for changes to happen, legislators need to hear from
their constituents on the types of things they want to see in state
government. He encouraged audience members to inform their peers about
“When you educate the public, the politicians will follow,” Pelath said.
Ayres wrapped up the forum saying the lawmakers present are very responsive
to constituent concerns.
“They are available, they are in your community and they want to hear from
you,” said Ayres.
There will be another NWI legislator forum on Saturday, Feb. 9, when the
Indiana State Teachers Association hosts their legislative breakfast at
Michigan City High School at 8:30 a.m., Ayres said.