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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Posted January 10

The (Munster) Times. January 4, 2017

Celebrate Region business leaders everywhere

Region greatness isn't always exemplified by people who do their best works here.

Rather, we should celebrate the solid examples set for us by people of vision who have strong Region roots or associations, regardless of whether their groundbreaking accomplishments occurred in Northwest Indiana or elsewhere.

That's why The Times has expanded parameters for the Region's annual induction into the Business & Industry Hall of Fame to include business leaders who made their mark outside, as well as within, the borders of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

The change is based on the principle that Northwest Indiana should glean just as much pride and equally important lessons from homegrown leaders who've impacted business landscapes outside of our geography.

To date, more than 40 people have been named to the local business hall of fame since its 2008 inauguration.

Celebrating recipients who left the Region to make substantial business contributions follows a model already incorporated by another program that celebrates Northwest Indiana greatness.

The South Shore Wall of Legends, an overall hall of fame for people with Northwest Indiana ties, celebrates the world-changing accomplishments of more than just people who spent their lives here.

For example, Wall of Legends inductee, world-renowned author and Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace didn't reside in the Region.

But he had strong recreational ties to the Kankakee River that runs through Northwest Indiana.

He was a hero of the Civil War, helping to raise thousands of troops for the Union cause, leading men in pivotal battles in the fight against slavery and preservation of our nation. Wallace also went on to write "Ben-Hur," a biblical best seller that eventually became a 1959 blockbuster movie that won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture.

Wallace's ties to the Kankakee River and our Region were worth noting in his induction into our regional Wall of Legends.

The same can and should be said for business and industry heroes who perform transformative works at home or abroad.

As a new year begins with new parameters for the Business & Industry Hall of Fame, we look forward to the celebration of new meritorious names.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. January 6, 2017

School shuffle

Two new reports should guide Indiana lawmakers as they determine education spending in the next two-year budget.

. A detailed analysis of equity in funding public schools by Indiana University researchers finds state funding has increased on a per-student basis since it bottomed out in 2012 but also finds that fluctuating enrollment in many traditional public school districts resulted in lower state support in 2017 than in 2009 - even in current-dollar terms.

. Education Week's annual Quality Counts survey of state education performance ranks Indiana 34th in the nation for school funding. And since lawmakers like letter grades, they should know the survey gives them an "F'' on financial support for schools.

Legislative leaders responsible for writing the school-funding formula, including Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, understand the challenge involved. Allocating education dollars is not as simple as dividing available funds by the number of students in Indiana. The state has a responsibility to educate all children, including those who have severe disabilities, come from impoverished homes or speak English as a second language. Kenley and others have been committed to steering more dollars to schools with higher-need students.

Still, there are unmet needs. The state's complexity index, used to determine which schools require more resources, doesn't account for English language-learners. Kathy Friend, chieffinancial officer for Fort Wayne Community Schools, said the district receives less than $1 million from the state and federal government for ELL students, requiring it to spend $4.7 million of its general fund money for teachers' and interpreters' language-instruction programs. Nearly 2,300 students - about 8 percent of FWCS enrollment - are ELL students.

Both the study by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at IU-Bloomington and the Education Week analysis give Indiana strong marks for equity in funding, the degree to which similar districts receive comparable funding. The IU report concludes the current funding formula improved equity between 2009 and 2017, while the Quality Counts survey ranks Indiana ninth best in the nation on that measure.

But the Education Week assessment, along with a note of caution in the IU study, puts overall funding in perspective, with the latter acknowledging it can't answer how much money is the correct amount for students from low-income families.

"It it important to keep in mind that the methods used to assess intended equity cannot answer questions related to overall adequacy of funding," writes author Thomas J. Sugimoto. "An adequacy study to determine if funding is sufficient to provide an adequate education is therefore warranted."

Adjusted for regional cost differences, Indiana spends $11,087 per student, according to Education Week. The national average is $12,156. Michigan, Illinois and Ohio all spend more per pupil than the national average.

Most Indiana legislators ignore the bottom line by pointing to the percentage allocated to education, with a tiresome chorus of "more than half the state's budget goes to education."

That's by design. In 2008, the General Assembly raised the Indiana sales-tax rate by 17 percent to shift all school general fund costs from local property taxpayers to the state.

A permanent $300 million reduction in school funding a year later went unnoticed by almost everyone but school officials. The state also began picking up tuition payments for an ever-growing number of students who never attended a public school - about 17,000 last year.

Instead of boasting of record increases in school funding, legislators need to take an honest look at their support for Indiana students, beginning with the objective analysis offered in the two studies.

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South Bend Tribune. January 5, 2017

Make a significant investment in Indiana's future

Two years ago, Gov. Mike Pence declared the start of the "education session."

But by that session's end, it had become known — nationally known — for something else entirely: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As the legislative session kicks off this week, lawmakers have the opportunity and the duty to attend to the serious issues surrounding education in the Hoosier state. They can demonstrate their commitment by starting at the very foundation and addressing a long-overdue need to expand prekindergarten. There's widespread agreement, finally, on the value of pre-K programs that prepare a child, academically and socially, for the school years ahead. Now it's time for lawmakers to begin expanding the state's current pilot program, which serves only a small fraction of Indiana children — and none in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, we might add. The program doesn't come close to meeting the overwhelming demand, helping about 4 percent of the state's 4-year-olds — fewer than 2,800 children.

Initial proposals from Republican legislators are focused on modest increases to the pilot program. One lawmaker proposes doubling the pilot by providing $20 million per year, allowing children in five more counties to apply for state aid; House Speaker Brian Bosma talks about expanding the program to an additional 5,000 students.

Such proposals don't sit well with those who want the state to commit long-term funding for prekindergarten education. Ann Murtlow, CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana, told the Indianapolis Star this week that the state needs to move beyond "pilot thinking." To do that, lawmakers should commit at least $50 million per year to pre-K, says Murtlow, leader of a coalition that advocates for a funding boost.

Given that Indiana was one of the last states to begin investing in preschool, it will take some time to reach every Hoosier child. And the goal is high-quality preschool — programs that meet certain academic standards critical for a student to see long-term benefits from pre-K attendance.

As lawmakers consider figures in this budget session, they should keep these numbers in mind, from a report issued by the Indiana Happy Babies Brain Trust, as they weigh the costs of pre-K:

There are more than 250,000 infants and toddlers in Indiana. Of those, 65 percent are in families where they require care outside the home, because they live in families where all parents are in the labor force. However, there are only 24,551 high-quality slots available for infants and toddlers, which is just enough for 15 percent.

Even the most optimistic don't expect this year's General Assembly will expand quality pre-K statewide. But in this budget year, it's critical that the state invest in the future with a significant expansion of pre-K.

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Kokomo Tribune. January 4, 2017

Another try at reforms

We've got it good in Howard County. Despite losing a quarter of our employment over the course of the previous decade, local governments function well.

Property tax bills are mailed out on time. Every resident has access to a public library. City-funded quality-of-place improvements have transformed Kokomo's appearance and reputation throughout Indiana.

It's understandable that some here don't recognize as needed the 2007 recommendations of the Commission on Local Government Reform. But the committee, led by former Gov. Joe Kernan and former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, discovered some sobering facts 10 years ago.

. About 400,000 Hoosiers in 38 counties hadn't access to a library.

. Some school systems received such little funding, they couldn't offer the curriculum necessary for their graduates to be admitted at Indiana University Bloomington or Purdue University at West Lafayette.

. Some township trustees spent more on themselves and their staffs than they did in poor relief each year.

Not every bill proposing government reform made it out of Senate committees in 2008. One that would've eliminated township government only addressed nepotism and excessive cash reserves. Another, that would've forced the consolidation of administrations of school districts of 1,000 students or fewer, wasn't brought to a vote.

Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb will announce Friday his legislative agenda for the 2017 session, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. It's our hope Holcomb will make the Commission on Local Government Reform recommendations a part of it.

He should persuade legislators to allow counties to reduce the three-person boards of county commissioners to one county executive and consolidate small school districts, as suggested by the Kernan-Shepard commission in 2007.

Hoosiers usually vote from their front porches. If their trash gets collected, if their streets get plowed, they believe all is right with the world. But there are places in Indiana where residents don't receive the kind of government services we're accustomed to in Howard County.

It was for those Hoosiers the Commission on Local Government Reform was established. Its recommendations deserve further consideration.

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