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Editorial columns

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Fulfilling the promise of Ritz’s election

Education rebalance deserves a full airing

As the Democratic members of the House Education Committee, we are privileged to serve as the standard-bearers for our new superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz.

Although we are members of the minority party, we believe there is an opportunity to offer common sense solutions to guiding policies that affect our children.

First, we need to restore the state support that has been cut from our public schools these past few years and make educational opportunities whole. Through the years, we have talked about the price that has been paid as a result of the cuts, particularly in reduced programming and the loss of valuable instructional expertise. Gauging the size of the state surplus, we have the financial capacity to restore our schools. We should take that opportunity.

Now that we have started to make kindergarten available to more children, this is the time to make the next investment in educational excellence – preschool programs that can prepare our children for long-term academic success.

At the very least, we should begin a dialogue about expectations and possible strategies for making this goal a reality. A good starting point would be to discuss the pilot program proposed by one of our members that would provide preschool services to as many as 15,000 3- and 4-year-olds across the state through local matching dollars.

We also need to evaluate the large amount of time and money spent on high-stakes testing. When standardized testing first entered the public sphere in Indiana, Gov. Robert Orr offered it as part of the A-plus program to help identify individuals who need help in the classroom. Since then, it has morphed into the standard means of determining the performance of schools and teachers, with penalties in place for those who do not make the grade on these pass/fail tests.

The time has come to analyze the financial burden of large quantities of student testing on taxpayers.

Large amounts of money that could be better allocated elsewhere, such as remediation, instruction and professional development, are going into the coffers of testing vendors.

Beyond the financial issue, we must ask ourselves how many instructional days we are willing to lose to administration of high-stakes tests, and what their true value is.

While we recognize and accept that our state has become a welcoming environment for charter schools and voucher programs, we urge our legislative colleagues as well as constituents to ask for, and carefully review, evidence of their effectiveness before we allow further expansion. Additionally, the same levels of accountability should be expected from charter, public and voucher private schools.

Recognizing that the educational experience does not begin when a child enters kindergarten also means acknowledging it does not end when that child receives a high school diploma. Our children deserve the chance to expand their knowledge through higher education, whether they select two-year schools, four-year institutions or vocational schools.

We offer the aforementioned ideas for consideration; we do not control the process.

However, those who lead the Indiana House have stated we will have a voice in deliberations this legislative session. We think the people of Indiana have the right to expect that policies supported by the newly elected superintendent of public instruction deserve full consideration.

State Reps. (clockwise from top left) Vernon G. Smith, D-Gary; Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes; Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point; and Sue Errington, D-Muncie, wrote this for Indiana newspapers.