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February 15, 2011

02/15/11 On Friday, February 11, I spoke to the trustees of the University of Indianapolis. My subject was about the session in general, but specifically about the budget and the State Student Assistance Commission (SSACI) appropriation. Independent colleges are concerned about losing student aid because of budget shortfalls. It is a very legitimate concern.

The last budget appropriated $264 million for student aid. This is the same appropriation proposed by the administration for the next budget. Helping young people to attend college has been a goal of the legislature for many years. To hold the appropriation steady is a major statement of support for education, given the revenues of the state. The problem for all educational institutions is that the number of qualifying students has grown tremendously. Even though the dollars from the state have remained constant, the increased number of qualified students has grown dramatically. The net result is a lower stipend for each applicant.

The state is not trying to cut the aid to students; the amount available must be spread over a greater number of qualified applicants. The situation creates concerns for all institutions of higher education as well as the students.

This week my bill concerning tax sales and treasurers passed 95-0. HB 1244 would allow a county treasurer to negotiate a payment plan to keep a property from being included in the county tax sale. Even though a homeowner has missed three consecutive property tax payments, the owner may make arrangements to catch up the taxes and still stay in the home. The bill is a “may” provision, but it is another tool for treasurers to provide some cash flow for the county and school districts.

Also this week the House passed HB 1002 which deals with charter schools. The bill would allow for the establishment of charter schools within a public school corporation if 51% of the parents or teachers agree that it is a good idea. The change could also involve an unused building in the school district and would be focused on a specific academic area. A sponsor would be required to make the change work. This legislation provides an option for change to those that need it most.

I want to compliment and praise the teachers I know because they are dedicated to their jobs and the students they teach. Their dedication to the school, the students and their profession is without question. I can only ask that they continue to devote their professional ability to the students. On last Tuesday evening, as we debated the charter school bill, teachers (representing a small fraction of all teachers in the state) demonstrated in a very unprofessional way in the Statehouse. My observation is the actions of these individuals were to benefit the union and not the students of Indiana. My mother was a teacher and my sister-in-law as well. They would not have acted with this group in such an unprofessional manner.

Teachers were screaming and chanting in front of the House Chambers in response to anything said about public schools. It became so loud and disruptive that a democrat legislator stood up several times and asked them to quiet down because the legislators in the chamber had trouble hearing the debate.

There is nothing wrong with Hoosiers coming to the Statehouse to productively voice their concern. Hoosiers with concerns speak to us in the hallway, make appointments, etc. Disrupting the General Assembly is not effective. It makes it difficult, for everyone, to perform their elected duties. What happened last week was not productive and didn’t further their cause.    

Educators must understand that changes will occur. Just like every other process, changes and adjustments will occur to achieve progress. Proposals that are being presented are not intended to destroy public education. They are intended to improve the process.

One of my goals is to calm the rhetoric involving education. We must be able to speak calmly and respectfully. Extreme and abusive language does not help to solve our disagreements. A change in the rhetoric will move us to a positive result.

The Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association met in Indianapolis last week. This organization meets to discuss the lumber industry in our state. Most of us don’t appreciate the contribution by these folks, but it is substantial. They provide each of us with hardwood for furniture, floors and trim as well as many jobs and tax revenue. This industry cares for our forests and woodlots while employing many in a safe and profitable manner. I want to salute their contribution to the state and nation.

Please continue to communicate your thoughts and opinions to me. I appreciate each one. It is your government, stay involved.

More later,

Bill Friend