By Caryl Auslander

Education decisions at the Statehouse and beyond are so inherently important for the workforce and the business community. That’s why the Indiana Chamber involves itself so deeply in education policy. In this home stretch for the Legislature, we are paying particularly close attention to three items: school funding, the testing component for our recently adopted K-12 academic standards and the State Board of Education governance. All are significant, somewhat contentious and not expected to play out until the last day(s) of session.

The dollars proposed to be spent per student in the House and Senate budgets are quite similar. However, the Senate completely deleted the charter school grants from its proposal. That is something we feel strongly should be in the final budget. As a reminder, the Governor had originally proposed a $1,500 boost in per-pupil funding for all charter schools.

Right now there is dueling opinion on the testing approach. We believe it’s imperative to have a larger, broader conversation about the state of assessments in Indiana before any decision is made. There are so many major issues that need further discussions and development, including the length of the test and the balancing act of not disrupting our federal No Child Left Behind waiver. Not to mention with any new testing comes the potential of spending hundreds of millions of dollars. We need to get this right! And to do that, we must take the proper time to fully discuss all the issues involved.

Senate Bill 566 assigns the assessment provision to a study committee thanks to a House amendment. We believe this is the right approach given all that is at stake. The other testing measure in play is House Bill 1009, which the Senate amended to look just like its original assessment measure (SB 566); that means it calls for a specific assessment component to be chosen now for Indiana’s standards. We find this a premature, costly and ill-advised path to take with such an important decision.

It’s looking promising that that the State Board of Education will get to elect its own chair, hopefully leading to more productive meetings and decision-making for the group. What’s still unclear is if the Governor will retain all of his appointments to the State Board and how many participants that will include. The Indiana Chamber believes whomever holds the office of Governor should have the sole discretion of who sits on the State Board to carry out his education vision. But it’s quite possible that two of the designations will be reassigned to the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem. The Governor will likely have to go to bat for himself if he’s to continue to have the full authority.

As for the number of members, sentiment appears to be on the side of reducing the size of the board. Currently there are 10 chosen members – one from each congressional district and one at-large – and the superintendent of public instruction. If the State Board shrinks to nine total (including the superintendent), that means no appointments by congressional district. However, there will be a strong push to have it written in the law that appointments are to cover the geography of the state and even specify that only one appointee can come from any single congressional district.

 Caryl Auslander is the vice president of education and workforce development policy for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.