INDIANAPOLIS — The annual preview of Indiana Chamber priorities heading into the 2020 legislative session offered a glimpse into Tuesday’s teacher rally and potential early bills from legislators in the nine-and-a-half week session to begin in January.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, offered his perspective on the thousands of teachers expected to rally outside of the statehouse Tuesday, saying his extended family had more than a dozen teachers including his daughter.
“We understand both the rewards and the challenges of the teaching profession, so (I’m) glad they’re participating tomorrow,” Bosma said. “I’m a little concerned about the stress placed on parents. … I’m going to spend a good part of my time talking to teachers tomorrow.”
Bosma told the audience that he’d sent a letter several weeks ago to the state Board of Education and Superintendent Jennifer McCormick saying “it would be our top priority this session, in record time, to pass a hold harmless and decoupling bill from teacher assessments.”
Bosma said a 3% decrease in public school students and teachers over the past 10 years came at the same time that administrative staff increased by 31%.
“So we have adopted past record increases – in the last budget, record increases for education,” Bosma said. “It’s not getting to the teachers, and we’ve got to take additional steps to see to it that it does.”
Bosma promised more detailed numbers Tuesday on allocated funds versus the amount school districts dedicated to their teachers but stopped short of saying the fix would require a mandate.
“The problem with a mandate is you can’t take 275 individual school corporations’ circumstances into account,” Bosma said. “You don’t want 150 people in Indianapolis determining what school salaries are in every school corporation; it’s just not the right thing.”
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said that the third issue teachers would protest Tuesday, repealing a professional development requirement to spend 15 hours learning about their community’s workforce needs, was sprung on teachers at the last minute in the 2019 session.
“I think they (teachers) feel like it just wasn’t enough input and enough consideration as to what that would mean,” Lanane said of the professional development requirement.
Bosma argued that the requirement could match young students with local job opportunities, such as recognizing a student’s dexterity and introducing them to welding, but that the purpose hadn’t been communicated appropriately.
“I’m not sure how far that should go; I’m not sure if a kindergarten teacher needs to have 15 hours in a manufacturing facility over five years,” Bosma said. “But every teacher needs to know these things because they’re the closest to these students and their future, other than their parents.”
The chamber advocated Monday for an accountability system for schools, stressing the need to measure student achievement across the state, and recommended requiring high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to get support for secondary schooling.
“I hear teachers tell me they don’t object to accountability as an idea, they have some problems with some of the ways it’s played out,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, adding that parents want to determine the quality of schools before moving into Indiana. “It would be difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine if you’re moving into a school system or moving into an area of effectiveness for that school.”
Bray said that the 2020 legislative session likely wouldn’t include major workforce development action.
“We have done some fairly bold initiatives over the last several years, the last three or four years anyway, with workforce development,” he said. “Some of them are so new they really haven’t gotten traction yet, and we haven’t been able to really study the results.”
Both Bray and Bosma identified health care as another priority in the upcoming session, with state Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, adding that the legislature should look at prescription drug pricing.
Austin also said that, with an aging Baby Boomer population, a future concern would be establishing a way to make long-term care insurance more affordable and accessible.
Lanane said he wants to see a bipartisan, citizen committee formed to engage in the redistricting process and supports decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. Additionally, Lanane said he’d like to close the background check loophole for private sales of firearms (including at gun shows) and hold gun owners accountable for unsecured firearms that could be easily accessible to children.
When the chamber introduced the possibility of raising taxes on cigarette packs by $2, Lanane asked Bosma whether he’d be willing to reopen the 2020-2021 budget, set in the 2019 session, to allow for such legislation.
“We adopted a two-year budget last year, and we try to keep everything very clean,” Bosma said to the press pool following the panel discussion. “I don’t intend to reopen the budget. I intend to pay off $300 million, plus or minus, of current, long-term indebtedness with available cash.”