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The School Calendar

A citizen’s guide to improving public education this school year.

Like it or not, the 2016-2017 school year is here.  Some students are entering the schoolhouse gates for their third week of school (aka “balanced” or “year around” calendars), others started last week (a “blended” approach), and finally others are starting in the next few weeks (a more “traditional” calendar).  In our school district, students started the first week of August: The same date as last year; still early, but not as early as other districts; and yet, earlier than many would like it to be.  Our calendar is a compromise between those who want longer breaks during the school year with those who want longer summers. This is an honest effort to represent the will of the community based on surveys and feedback. 

I venture to say that calendars are a constant source of conversation and discussion wherever you live.  I’ve heard it debated at a baseball field in south Indianapolis, at a family reunion in southern Indiana, and so many other places.  One fact: A perfect calendar does not exist.  This doesn’t mean that legislators aren’t working on this matter.  We often have our state legislators discussing calendar requirements (e.g. “Schools shall not start until after Labor Day”).  I don’t understand how a difficult task – completed by school boards with significant local input – can be made better through a statewide approach…but I digress.

As I reflect on this, I begin to look forward to another calendar: the legislative calendar.  I have put together a legislative calendar for you, as I see it.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that I have remembered everything, or that I haven’t oversimplified the complex and tedious background work that goes into what our elected officials do throughout the year; but then again, I’m not sure they haven’t understated the same thing for public school teachers across our state.

I share this calendar with you in hopes that you will consider the season we are in, and utilize this election season to ask serious questions about the educational positions of those who aspire to “represent” us.  This could very well be one of the most important elements of the current school year. 

August to October – Campaign Season.  This is when local citizens can pose various questions to candidates and receive a clearer picture of their beliefs, and how they plan to improve the communities in which they reside…including education.

November – Election.  Celebrations and wound-licking ensue thereafter.

December – Legislative Planning.   A time when legislators prepare for the upcoming general assembly session.

January to April – Legislative Session.  Legislators convene to do their work in Indianapolis.  Bills are proposed, hearings are held, lobbyists wait in the halls to provide guidance, votes are held, bills are passed or defeated or sent to a “summer study committee”.

May to July – Legislative Wrap-Up.  The public, including schools, are notified of new laws and the ramifications of these laws.

The start of a new school year is absolutely imperative for students, and the people who work with students.  This is the time when new learning goals are established, and when teachers begin the process of providing differentiated instruction to each student.

Similarly, this is a critical time in the legislative year.  At this time, locally-elected leaders are still local…a time when legislators are campaigning in their home communities and establishing a platform on which they will run for election.  Most importantly, it’s a time when you can have conversations with candidates and understand their positions.  In the State of Indiana, nearly half of all State dollars go to education (both public education and newly-elected expenditures related to school vouchers, whose costs are now greater than originally predicated and promised). 

Therefore, now is the time to be establishing educational goals for our elected leaders.  I am proposing a set of goals for our State of Indiana elected leaders.  It’s not that these topics are not priorities to them as well.  But, what is important is the philosophy that underpins the decisions being made by these leaders as they relate to education in Indiana.  What is important is that the bedrock of our State, public education, is protected and enhanced through these decisions.  In the coming weeks, I will provide a vision for improving our public schools.  Each goal proposed will include a brief summary of recent decisions (both the good and the bad) and how we can move forward for the betterment of Indiana’s children.

My proposed 2016-2017 education goals for State leaders:

1.        Increase foundation level funding for public schools;

2.       Increase funding for the schools with the highest poverty (complexity funding);

3.       Provide solutions for the devastating impact of property tax caps;

4.      Reduce the diversion of funding from public schools to private-interest educators and educational institutions;

5.       Increase funding for schools with high levels of English language learners;

6.      Fund early childhood education;

7.       Provide greater autonomy through local control to publicly-elected school boards;

8.      Ensure all decisions provide equitable treatment of all educational institutions;

9.      Ensure all decisions provide equitable treatment of all students; and

10.    Address the teacher shortage in the State of Indiana.

I believe these goals are vital to a healthy and effective system of public schools in Indiana.  Equally important is defining these goals through measurable actions that can, and should, be taken in the coming year.  I look forward to sharing my detailed thoughts on these individual goals in the coming weeks, and I challenge each of you to have similar conversations with your locally-elected leaders.  Only through your awareness and actions can we ensure that Hoosier students are receiving the quality education they rightfully deserve as outlined in Indiana’s constitution.

               

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