The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 27, 2016 10:02 pm

Candidates present their cases

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The three candidates for governor squared off Tuesday in a debate absent any of the drama and tension from the presidential stage.

There was no verbal abuse, interruptions or facial gymnastics – just a civil forum that didn’t break any new ground in the contest.

"Hurling insults is not going to help a student learn better or help a family find a better job," said Democrat John Gregg, a former House speaker.

He and Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, along with Libertarian Rex Bell, largely talked generalities rather than specifics and referred to their websites. But the longest time they had to answer a question was 1 minute, which limited delving deep on topics.

The debate was held before hundreds of students at an Indianapolis high school and was also broadcast in schools statewide. The Indiana Debate Commission put on the event in conjunction with Indiana Kids’ Election, the Indiana State Bar Association, Indiana Secretary of State and the Indiana Department of Education.

One pointed question came from a student who asked whether they supported allowing in-state tuition rates for unauthorized immigrant students.

No one directly answered the question, with Gregg calling it a "tough decision" and "something the legislature needs to grapple with."

Indiana is one of six states in the nation that bars so-called "dreamers" from paying in-state tuition.

Holcomb said he is happy to look at it in the future but it has "zero probability" of moving forward so he won’t take a position.

On testing, everyone agreed with the impending end of ISTEP+, the state’s accountability test.

Bell wants local schools to be able to choose their own testing path rather than be forced into a state or federal mandate.

Both Gregg and Holcomb want a fair, more efficient test that gives results more quickly. Currently the test is taken in the spring, and results don’t come until the next school year.

As for what replaces ISTEP+, Holcomb still favors a single pass/fail test, not multiple tests spread throughout the year.

That has been pitched by some as a way to more adequately gauge student progress and give immediate feedback to teachers.

The issue of teacher shortages arose, and Holcomb pointed out it’s a national problem, not just one in Indiana.

He said lawmakers have increased K-12 funding, but "it’s about where that money ends up." For instance, he said, too much is going to administrative costs instead of salaries.

But Gregg said, "we created this teacher shortage in the last few years by the way we have demeaned those in the education profession." He promised to bring teachers back to the table on policy and testing decisions – one thing he said will help attract and retain teachers.

After the debate, candidates took questions from reporters. Holcomb said he supports issuing a single A-F grade to schools based on performance of children. He said several factors would go into the grade, just like students get an overall grade-point average based on all their coursework.

He said moving away from a single overall grade – as pushed by Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Jennifer McCormick – would be a disservice to taxpayers.

Bell said a lot of the solutions being pitched by Republicans and Democrats "basically amount to getting the government to fix something that the government fouled up in the first place." He prefers getting government out of education altogether or at least pushing decisions down to the local level.

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