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Education a Top Legislative Priority for Indiana in 2015

PHOTO: Besides the next two-year budget, Indiana lawmakers are expected to discuss ways to improve education in the state as the 2015 Indiana General Assembly begins this week. Photo credit: K. Connors/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Besides the next two-year budget, Indiana lawmakers are expected to discuss ways to improve education in the state as the 2015 Indiana General Assembly begins this week. Photo credit: K. Connors/Morguefile.
January 6, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - Besides the state's biennial budget, education tops the agenda for Indiana lawmakers as they begin the new legislative session Tuesday.

Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, says improving school funding is an important matter given the state's $2 billion budget surplus and recent ranking of per-pupil spending at 28th in the nation. He also notes the critical need to address funding disparities between urban, rural, and suburban schools.

"High poverty districts still need more funding to be able to provide programs and interventions to help those students achieve more in the classroom," says Ohlemiller. "I expect that the per-pupil funding in those different districts will be addressed."

According to Ohlemiller, a focus on quality teaching can have a significant impact on students' learning. But, he says, some of the best teachers are either leaving the teaching field for other careers, or departing for districts outside of the highest-need urban school settings.

"We want to incentivize teachers in urban school settings to make more money, advance their career by becoming teacher leaders, and focusing their efforts on teaching some of our most challenged kids in our highest-need schools," he says.

Ohlemiller adds that prioritizing and improving education in Indiana is critical to building a 21st century workforce.

"Only one-third of Hoosier adults have a higher education degree," he says. "Out of 50 states, Indiana consistently ranks in the 40s when it comes to our workforce preparation. All of that comes down to education, and what kind of outcomes we're getting for our kids in the classroom."

Ohlemiller says more investment in early childhood education is also needed, as approximately 30,000 high-risk students do not have opportunities for quality, affordable preschool. Last session, the state created a pilot preschool program, but only about 350 positions were available.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN