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STATEHOUSE REPORT FROM REP. NANCY DEMBOWSKI

August 21, 2012
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08/22/12 By the time you read this, most Hoosier children will have gone back to school.

The old tradition of “starting school after Labor Day, ending by Memorial Day” no longer holds water in this day and age.

But there is little about public education these days that will look familiar to folks who graduated from high school as recently as five or six years ago.

While the mission of our public schools remains the same as always – provide every child with an education – it has become more difficult to achieve that goal, especially when they must do so with funds that are constantly dwindling.

I have talked on many occasions about the impact of the funding cuts ordered the past few years by the governor: fewer programs, cuts in teachers and staff, larger class sizes, and an increased reliance upon fees and charges to participate in activities like athletics and band.

In addition, we are finding that more public tax dollars are being used to finance privately-operated schools that do not have to operate under the same rules. These private schools get to pick and choose who they want to educate, and with little of the accountability asked of public schools.

I think there are better ways to improve the quality of our schools, and in a time when our state’s surpluses have swollen to more than $2 billion, now seems the best time to explore our investment in the future of our children.

Here are a few ideas worth considering.

One area where Indiana lags behind other states is pre-school education. That’s putting it kindly: we’re one of only 10 states without any pre-school education program. Early learning is statistically proven to be a better economic investment than every type of break we can throw to businesses. Why not start the investment now?

This commitment could continue by agreeing to fully fund full-day kindergarten. I know that the governor and others are fond of saying that we do fully fund it, but the reality is that the state only has increased its share of funding. Many local schools do not have the financial resources to pay their share of the costs of full-day K.

One casualty of reduced state support has been a gradual erosion of one of the sacred concepts of education reform that stretches back as far as Gov. Robert Orr’s A-plus program in the 1980s: reduced class sizes. As funding has been cut, schools have been gradually forced into increasing class sizes, with a corresponding loss in the individualized attention that enables teachers to help students. I believe we need to return to this reform to help more students succeed and, just as importantly, prevent more students from slipping through the cracks.

Finally, I believe we need to remind ourselves of a core principle that has been a part of public education in Indiana for longer than anyone can remember.

As the state has gradually assumed control over funding for our schools, it has come with a corresponding belief that control over school policy should come from the state as well.

Bureaucrats in Indianapolis should not be telling us the best ways to educate our children. What works in a large city may not work at all in a rural area, yet it seems we are in an era where the people who formulate education policy are trying to create a system where one size fits all.

Every school, classroom and child is different. The people best equipped to understand the needs of our children are those who work with them every day: parents, teachers and administrators. We need to make sure they continue to have the largest role in helping mold their lives.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, here’s how you can stay in touch:

Call my office toll-free at 1-800-382-9842;

Write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204; or

E-mail me at H17@in.gov.

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