The Indiana General Assembly reaches its halfway point this week, with deadlines in both chambers for bills to pass their house of origination.
The legislation includes House Bill 1001, the biennial budget bill. By law, the spending plan must originate in the House. It is on the schedule for third reading today, after Democrats unsuccessfully tried to amend it last week to include Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed tax cut. Both House and Senate fiscal leaders have said they want to see April budget projections before considering the tax cut, which could be approved through the conference committee process.
House leaders have suggested their first priority is restoring education cuts, but the proposal falls far short of that goal. While schools lost $300 million in funding each year of the last biennium, HB 1001 would restore only $160 million over two years.
School spending does increase, but an additional $129 million a year includes $82 million for full-day kindergarten, an expense that was formerly a separate line item in the budget. While it’s a good move to make full-day kindergarten part of the overall school funding formula, the proposal continues to dole out the money at a rate less than is allowed for students in other grades.
The voucher expansion bill approved by the House on Thursday night further reduces spending for public schools. The legislation makes special education students in private schools eligible for a voucher and raises the cap on voucher reimbursements from $4,500 to $5,000 in 2014 and to $5,500 in 2015. It also allows children of veterans currently in private school to receive a voucher. Fiscal analysts put the estimated cost of the three changes at $21 million, to come from general school funding.
Education cuts restored for public schools? Not yet.
State Blvd. project
The latest round of public meetings city leaders have scheduled on the controversial State Boulevard project should put to rest complaints from neighbors that the city is trying to push the major transportation project through without consulting neighborhood leaders. But it probably won’t.
City planning officials contend the project will improve flood control, traffic congestion and pedestrian and motorist safety. They also think the many changes they have made in response to suggestions from community leaders will protect the neighborhoods as well as preserve the historical significance of the area.
The project needs to happen. The bridge over Spy Run Creek needs to be replaced, and federal flood plain regulations require the city to raise it at least 7 feet. Neighbors also need relief from the sharp curve in the street that too frequently causes cars to land in yards near where children play.
It appears most residents living in the neighborhoods directly affected by the project are now in favor of it. But several residents living in neighborhoods further east of the project remain concerned that easing traffic congestion on West State will also increase truck traffic on the road.
Project opponents have complained that the city has not been transparent about the project and has left opponents out of the planning process. So, city officials are emphasizing that the plans are only preliminary designs and that they welcome suggestions from residents.
State charter school officials are likely to hear opposition from Fort Wayne Community Schools representatives at a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed grade 6-12 charter school.
Carpe Diem, an Arizona-based charter operator, has a proposed real estate deal with Ambassador Enterprises, owner of the former Taylor campus, to open a school here. The application indicates the school has a targeted enrollment of 600 students, for which Ambassador would be paid $550,000 a year, plus associated property operating expenses. Ambassador is headed by Daryle Doden, father of Indiana Economic Development Commission Director Eric Doden.
The Carpe Diem school in Indianapolis has five teachers for students in grades 6-10, according to a directory on its website. Instruction is primarily online.
Charter schools are public schools, financed by a share of the state’s taxpayer-funded tuition support. The schools are exempt from many of the regulations placed on neighboring public schools. The additional flexibility is intended to foster higher achievement, but three of the city’s four charter schools are set to close next fall because of lagging test scores.
Rick Ogston, founder and chief learning officer for Carpe Diem, is expected to attend the Fort Wayne hearing. After the charter operator makes a 10-minute presentation, a 30-minute question-and-answer session will follow. The public hearing portion of the meeting begins at 6:15 p.m., but a hearing a year ago on the proposed Thurgood Marshall Academy appeared to have no influence on the decision made by the Indiana Charter School Board. Only one state board member attended the hearing, which was not recorded or transcribed. Only two community members spoke in support of the school, but discussion at the full board meeting discounted the overwhelming opposition to the Urban League-sponsored school.
The best course for residents interested in the Carpe Diem proposal would be to submit comments in writing. They can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, delivered to the board staff at the hearing or mailed to the Indiana Charter School Board, 100 N. Senate Ave., Room 1049, Indianapolis, IN 46204.
The deadline for submitting comments is May 7.
Brownfield redevelopment is usually a good economic development strategy, but unknown environmental hazards can make such redevelopment projects an expensive gamble. To mitigate the risk, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a grant program to help pay for environmental assessments of brownfield properties.
The Northeast Indiana Brownfield Coalition – a group encouraging redevelopment of brownfields in Adams, Allen, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley counties – is holding outreach meetings in each of the counties starting this week. The purpose of the meetings is to identify potential properties that would benefit from an assessment and to share information about the coalition with property owners. The coalition’s efforts do not include Fort Wayne or Columbia City.