Fort Wayne Gazette Journal. January 8, 2023.
Editorial: Education a focus of lawmakers, governors and employers at this session
A study by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce released Dec. 23 found that Hoosier employers are in high demand for “life skills” such as collaboration and critical thinking.
The results of the poll could not have come at a more influential time. The Indiana General Assembly meets on Monday and – since this is an odd-numbered year – its top priority will be to draft a new two-year state budget.
Last year, the K-12’s educational spending accounted for about half of its budget.
A survey of 1,000 Hoosiers by Bellwether Research & Consulting found that increasing education funding is the state’s third-highest priority and elected officials appear to be listening ahead of the new session.
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Gov. Eric Holcomb wants a record increase in K-12 funding as part of a two-year $43 billion budget plan. House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said in November he wants to “reinvent” high school in 2023, though his proposal lacks specifics.
In partnership with America Succeeds and Lightcast, the Chamber reviewed 1.6 million job postings in Indiana over the past two years. It found that 1.2 million, or 75% of the entries asked for at least one life skill and 55% searched for at least two such skills, including character, communication, creativity, steadfastness, a growth mindset, leadership, metacognition and mindfulness.
“This study is quite compelling because it focuses on the benefits of cultivating these skills and traits from a very early age. Whether it’s encouraging creativity or your thought process, learning the importance of good character, or working well with others,” Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said in a statement. “Educators, politicians and business leaders should heed these insights and ask themselves, ‘Are we really preparing students for the future?’ ”
Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, told The Journal Gazette he didn’t have much information about Huston’s proposal to reinvent high school, but was aware of the broad outlines.
Its organization was part of the formative discussion.
“The realignment of the secondary curriculum I think has some application in the present day as we are dealing with post-secondary work demands that are very different than, say, 20 years ago,” Taylor said. “There aren’t many definitions of what reinventing high school means, other than that lawmakers are looking at how we improve our secondary education programs to ensure we provide the appropriate post-secondary opportunities and preparation to participate in those opportunities.” .”
Huston, House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner are committed to providing additional work-based learning opportunities for high school students and making it easier for them to access postsecondary credentials before graduation.
Taylor said expanding work-based learning would have both educational and financial benefits for high schoolers and their families.
“If you can offset the (post-secondary) cost with some minimal or no-cost opportunities while the student is in high school, that’s a benefit to the parent in general and the student,” he said. “Let’s face it, college debt is a growing problem for all families. So yes, I think there are some real potential benefits here.”
The governor’s education proposal calls for a 6% increase in K-12 tuition support in the first year and an additional 2% increase in the second year of the next budget for nearly $1.2 billion in new funding for schools.
It would also expand the On My Way Pre-K program by raising the income criteria from 127% to 138% of the federal poverty line, giving 5,000 more families the right to preschool education.
Although Holcomb will urge much of the new spending to continue increasing teachers’ salaries, he also proposes eliminating textbook fees with a new $160 million to help cover the cost of books and other curriculum materials. Indiana is one of only seven states that allows schools to collect textbook fees from families.
Taylor doesn’t find the governor’s proposals on primary education, Huston’s focus on secondary education, and the Indiana Chamber’s call for more emphasis on life skills inappropriate. In fact, he sees them as complementary.
“I don’t see any benefit in prioritizing one particular age group over another age group. I know there must be specific and focused initiatives that address each of these unique need groups,” said the executive director of the Superintendent Association. “But it makes sense to consider how we’re changing to prepare our future citizens to be responsive in this ever-changing work environment, and that’s part of the education requirement.”
This week, House Speaker Huston will release details on the subject of reinventing high school when he formally announces House Republicans’ legislative priorities for the biennium, Press Secretary Erin Wittern told The Journal Gazette.
We will withhold our assessment of the proposal until we have seen more details.
However, we see an opportunity for legislators to help students acquire skills such as problem solving and teamwork by expanding work-related learning with local employers. Life skills are indeed employment skills, says the Indiana Chamber of Commerce survey of employers.
Let’s hope lawmakers’ desire to reinvent high school doesn’t dilute their focus on the vital need to strengthen early childhood education opportunities.
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