Education issues top discussion at legislative panel

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On March 8, nine legislators from the greater Hamilton County area took part in the most recent in a series of legislative breakfast panels presented by OneZone and the Hamilton County Business Issues Committee.

The panel discussion took place at Conner Prairie, where education issues specifically school safety, dominated the conversation. The panel included State Sens. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis), John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis), Victoria Spartz (R-Noblesville)and Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) and State Reps. Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Tony Cook (R-Cicero), Donna Schaibley (R-Carmel), Todd Huston (R-Fishers) and Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville).

As the former superintendent of Hamilton Heights School Corp., Cook spoke first, referencing House Bill 1004, which concerns school safety.

“(The bill changes rules) of the secured safety fund, talks about the security aspect of hardening buildings and money the governor is going to place into that program,” Cook said.

The bill states that schools eligible for money from the secured safety fund must conduct a threat assessment by July 1, 2021, for each of its buildings before the school corporation can apply for a matching grant from the fund. Changes also allow funds received to be used for mental health and social/emotional wellness services for students. The bill also sets the requirement that at least one of the disaster drills conducted by each school must be an active-shooter drill and must be conducted within 90 days after the beginning of each semester.

HB 1004 was passed in the House, 96-2, on a third reading. The bill was then referred to the Senate and was, as of press time, being reviewed by the Education and Career Development Committee.

Touching on school safety, Huston referred to the house’s budget bill (HB 1001).

“We included additional funding, several million dollars, for school safety, which can be used for the physical hardening of schools and mental health,” Huston said before moving on to the issue of teacher pay. “There’s been some debate about the teacher pay issue and the legislature’s obligation to that. House Bill 1003 and the Republican caucus has said, appropriately, that we will provide district’s with money, but teacher pay should be decided at the local level based upon the factors that may be different.

“When I was on the school board at (Hamilton) Southeastern, we wanted things like smaller class sizes, but if you want smaller class sizes, you’re probably not going to be able to maximize teacher pay because you’re putting more people (on payroll),” Huston continued. “In (HB 1003), we want that to be a transparent process. We want to set some guidelines for how those dollars are used. Everyone desires to pay teachers as much as possible, but the factors that determine that are decided locally.”

House Bill 1003 passed the House 68-27 on a third reading. Now in the Senate, the bill was being reviewed by the Education and Career Development Committee as of press time.

Goodrich discussed a bill (HB 1224) he authored that would establish an intergenerational mentor pilot program.

“As we look at school safety, I truly believe that this relationship with senior citizens and folks volunteering in our schools is a big deal,” he said.

Goodrich has previously said he was inspired to write the bill after the May 25, 2018 shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, when community members reached out to him looking for a way to help. Through the pilot program, individuals 55 and older would work with students as a mentor to help develop life skills. The bill passed the House unanimously with 98 votes and was, as of press time, being reviewed by the Senate’s Education and Career Development Committee.

The 2019 legislative session ends April 29. At 7:30 a.m. April 12, OneZone and the Hamilton County Business Issues Committee will host a 2019 session wrap-up breakfast at Conner Prairie, 13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers. Visit bit.ly/2HHwywd for more.

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