Education is Key Issue

Beumer, Holdman Discuss Session

Ray Cooney – Editor
The Commercial Review
The Lawmakers promised this year in the Indiana General Assembly would be the “education session.”

Through its first half, issues involving students — budget, the state superintendent, ISTEP testing — have been key topics of discussion.

During their mid-session break, Rep. Greg Beumer (R-Modoc) and Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) focused on education as they looked ahead to their work that resumes today in Indianapolis.

Both first pointed to the $31.3 billion bienniel budget passed by the Indiana House. It includes $469 million in new money being allocated to education.

“I’m excited about that,” said Holdman, who represents all of Jay, Adams, Wells and Blackford counties and part of Huntington and Grant counties. “I think we’ve seen pretty much a commitment from leadership both in the House and the Senate that if we have anticipated revenues in the area that we hope they’ll be that we’ll be able to allocate most all those dollars for K-12 education and higher ed.”

Two other education issues, including a proposal that could remove the state superintendent of public instruction as chair of the state board of education, have been more controversial.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the board have been at odds since Ritz took office in 2013, with board members complaining that they have not been able to put items on their agenda. In late 2013, Ritz sued the other board members, alleging that they broke Indiana’s Open Door law.

Two bills — House Bill 1609 and Senate Bill 1 — are focused on eliminating the conflict.

The House version would allow the state board of education to elect its own chair, a position that currently automatically goes to the state superintendent.

Beumer voted against the House bill.

“A huge majority of people in my district just feel that there’s a sense of fairness when they put someone in office and I tend to agree with that assessment,” said Beumer, a Portland native who represents all of Jay and Randolph counties and part of Delaware County.

Critics of the measure say removing Ritz as board chair amounts to disenfranchising voters.

“It does not,” said Holdman, who authored the Senate’s version of the bill. “She is the chief executive officer, duly elected, of the department of education — the state superintendent.”

He emphasized that the bills only remove her as the chair of the board, something he feels is necessary because of the constant conflict over the last two years.

In addition to allowing the board to elect its own chair, Senate Bill 1 changes its overall makeup to include eight members appointed by the governor and one each appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate. It also lays out guidelines for how items are to be added to the board agenda.

Holdman noted that he believes board members are as much to blame for the recent problems as Ritz.

“Nobody is pure in this whole thing,” he said. “That’s why I think the legislature just had to step in. We’ve given them two years to clean it up, and they haven’t been able to get it done.”

Holdman called the recent ISTEP controversy — testing was projected to take more than 12 hours — “illustrative” of the issues that have been prevalent and credited Gov. Mike Pence with stepping in to help find a solution. Both he and Beumer said they were pleased the legislature was able to work quickly in order to come up with a solution to reduce testing time.

“The House and the Senate both came together with superintendent Ritz and Gov. Pence,” said Beumer. “To me that was an excellent sign of cooperation, working together to solve a problem … We just can’t ask our children K through 12 to go through that regiment of testing.”

Beumer added that he believes religious freedom measures will serve as “moral flashpoints” during the second half of the session much as the same-sex marriage debate was last year.

Proponents of such measures — Senate bills 101 and 568 and House Bill 1632 — say they want to protect religious beliefs. Opponents say the measures would use religion as a shield to legalize discrimination against homosexuals and others.

Holdman noted that he supports the measures, saying the state is simply enacting what is allowed by federal law.

In reference to a proposal to allow the Sunday sale of alcohol that was pulled last week, Beumer said there was no consensus among legislators. Holdman said there remains a chance that the bill could resurface because it was pulled rather than defeated by a vote.

Beumer also discussed legislation that would require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a cold medicine ingredient that is also used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. He said while he understands the impact of meth, especially in rural areas, he’s against the proposal.

“The only way that I’m going to support that legislation is if we couple that with making Indiana the strictest state in the union that if you are a dealer, if you are a manufacturer of meth, you will receive the harshest punishment of any state.

“You’ve got to make it so that people think twice before they either deal or manufacture a substance like that in Indiana.