Public forum

From the left, Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City; Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn; and Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, participated in a public education forum Jan. 9 at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne.

HUNTERTOWN — State testing, vouchers and teacher pay were highlights during a public education forum Jan. 9 at Carroll High School. Four state elected officials offered their thoughts on education funding, accountability and the role of public education during a 90-minute forum.

“Our purpose here tonight is just to extend the conversation. We want to continue to talk about education. … We wanted to give a forum for other people in our community to also engage, but we also wanted to give you a chance to hear from our legislators firsthand,” Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Chris Himsel told the crowd gathered in Carroll’s small auditorium.

Several parents, teachers, administrators and school board members from around the Allen County area offered a round of applause for Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, who called for an end to state testing. Kruse, a member of the Indiana Senate Education Committee who is not seeking reelection, said teachers can measure accountability better than any test.

“I’ve always said we don’t need a state test of any kind. … Most all teachers, I think, know their students, they know what they’re doing in the classroom, they know if they’re learning or not learning,” Kruse said.

Kruse’s sentiments were echoed by other legislators.

“High-stakes testing is really detrimental to the classroom and to teachers overall,” Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said.

GiaQuinta said the state has spent $133 million on testing over the past several years. While testing is required at the federal level, he suggested a more practical approach.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, agreed that teachers are the best form of student accountability, but she pointed out that states can lose federal funding if they abandon standardized testing. She called A-F school grading “not the most perfect” system, but she praised Indiana’s school curriculum.

“When people come into our state or leave our state to go elsewhere, whether it’s college or a job, there is an assurance that your education meant something and that diploma means something,” Brown said.

Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, called for a decrease in regulations altogether.

“We have to look at what we can do as legislators on unnecessary, burdensome regulations and testing requirements at the state level,” he said.

Legislators also answered audience questions regarding teacher pay and public school vouchers.

Kruse called the accountability associated with vouchers “adequate,” while GiaQuinta expressed opposition. On the House floor, he said, vouchers were sold as a way to “help poor students trapped in a failing school.” Since then, “It’s really more of a scholarship for students who want to go to a nontraditional public school,” he said.

Brown supported students and their parents’ ability to choose.

“I think it’s a little misleading to think that those are dollars being taken away from a traditional public school setting,” Brown said. “We’re always trying to make sure schools are adequately funded, but the pot has gotten bigger because we’re trying to serve students and give their parents the best opportunities for their students.”

Asked about teacher pay, Kruse said while public education spending has increased by $1 billion over the past three years, not enough of that funding is going toward salaries.

“I think we need to keep (increasing spending), but I think it’s not good that our teachers are not getting a starting salary of at least $40,000,” Kruse said. “I think there are still some schools where they’re making $32,000 or $33,000 starting after a college education, which I think is too low.”

During the forum, Kruse also criticized the state board of education’s recent elimination of career and technical education funding for family and consumer science classes, garnering a round of applause from the crowd.

“I think it’s bad that they’re taking money away from that,” he said. “I would do all I can to make sure that money is funded for those career and technical education classes.”

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