Senators speak in favor of newspaper public notice

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Editor’s note: Language that would have curtailed the publication requirement of the annual school performance report was removed from H.B. 1003 during the Feb. 19 Senate Education and Career Development Committee meeting.

Committee chair Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, offered a lengthy amendment, mostly concerning the bill’s core purpose to give school districts the ability to seek waivers from various state regulations, that also deleted the section referencing the publication requirement of the performance report.

The amendment was passed with a 10-3 vote. The dissenters voiced concerns with other aspects of the amendment, not the school performance report publication which all three voiced support of HSPA’s position prior to the bill’s hearing on Feb. 12.

After the amendment was adopted, H.B. 1003 was approved by the committee and will be consigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee due to a fiscal impact the bill would create.

“I know of no Hoosier who would begrudge five cents of their tax bill going to provide them the knowledge of how well their school is doing to educate children while spending millions of taxpayer dollars.”

— Steve Key, HSPA executive director & general counsel

Several state senators spoke in favor of the publication of the annual school performance report during H.B. 1003’s Feb. 12 hearing before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee last week.

During the presentation by bill author Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, asked if the elimination of the requirement to publish the entire report was the “opposite of transparency in government?” Rep. Jordan noted that a number of educational organizations had raised the concern about the cost of publishing the report, but reluctantly agreed that the bill would reduce transparency when pressed by Sen. Leising.

HSPA has collected information on the cost of publication for 130 public school districts and found the average cost was $940 to present how well they were performing. The average school budget for those school districts, was $34.1 million.

Sen. Victoria Spaartz, R-Noblesville, said, “We want more transparency, not less. The reports are hard to find. I want to keep them in the papers.” She indicated to HSPA that she would submit an amendment to maintain the full publication requirement.

Jordan’s original bill would have totally eliminated any publication requirement. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, offered an amendment during the bill’s hearing in the House Education Committee that requires the publication of a summary with a reference to where a full report could be found on the Internet.

HSPA’s executive director and general counsel Steve Key pointed out to the Senate Committee that there were no specifics as to what should be included in a summary, which would create no consistency to the public notice as each district could choose how little to publish.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, supported Sen. Spartz. He agreed that transparency is important and would support her proposed amendment.

Representatives for the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, Indiana School Boards Association, Indiana Association of School Business Officials, Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association and Indiana Department of Education all testified in favor of eliminating the full publication requirement.

John Elcessor of Indiana Non-Public Education Association said newspapers are dying and the publication requirement was “archaic.”
During his testimony, Key pointed out that three million Hoosiers read a newspaper at least once a week while the DOE reported only 14,500 unique page views of the school performance report on its website for all of 2019.

When Spaartz noted the lack of Internet coverage in the state, Key noted Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Syracuse said in a different committee that he only could get 10 mb of service between 3:01 a.m. and 3:02 a.m.

Leising agreed: “This is a real transparency issue at a time when we’re telling parents they have a choice in schools and then make it harder for them to see how schools are doing. There is a shortage of broadband Internet in parts of the state.”

“I agree with Spaartz and Leising about transparency and accessibility,” said Sen. Ed Melton, D-Gary. “Every house may not have access to laptops, iPads, etc. We need to also look at family structure – it could be grandparents raising children, and the grandparents read newspapers. A hard copy is the best way to reach everyone.”

After one school organization representative argued that Hoosiers would look to their school districts for the reports, Key was able to share that one northern school district told publisher Bill Hackney that only five individuals had used the district website to look for the annual performance report.

Key also pointed out that Hoosiers indicated that posting public notices only on government websites would result in a 60% percent decline in the readership of notices. He also used the average cost of the publication of the annual school performance report and adult population in Indiana to point out that the average cost per adult Hoosier was a nickel of their tax dollars.

“I know of no Hoosier who would begrudge five cents of their tax bill going to provide them the knowledge of how well their school is doing to educate children while spending millions of taxpayer dollars,” Key said after the hearing.

Prior to the Senate committee hearing, Sens. John Crane, R-Brownsburg; Brian Buchanan, R-Lebanon; Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn; Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond; and Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, had indicated support for the publication of the school performance report.

The school performance publication language is only one section of the education matters bill. Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, is the sponsor of H.B. 1003 and chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Prior to the hearing, Sen. Raatz had agreed that the House language was not adequate, but indicated he wanted to talk to Reps. Jordan and Behning before determining how to improve the school performance report section.

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