A more solid foundation
08 Jan 2023 — Journal Gazette
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Editorial board | The Journal Gazette

An Indiana Chamber of Commerce study released Dec. 23 has found a high demand among Hoosier employers for "life skills," such as collaboration and critical thinking.

Results of the survey couldn't have come at a more influential time. The Indiana General Assembly convenes Monday, and - this being an odd-numbered year - its top priority will be hammering out a new, two-year state budget.

Last year, K-12 education spending accounted for about half of the budget.

A survey of 1,000 Hoosiers by Bellwether Research & Consulting found boosting education funding to be the third-highest priority of state residents, and elected officials appear to be listening ahead of the new session.

Gov. Eric Holcomb wants a record increase in K-12 funding as part of a $43 billion, two-year budget plan. House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said in November he wants to "reinvent" high school in 2023, though his proposal lacks specifics.

Partnering with America Succeeds and Lightcast, the Chamber inspected 1.6 million Indiana job postings over the past two years. It found 1.2 million, or 75%, of the listings asked for at least one life skill and 55% sought at least two such competencies including character, communication, creativity, fortitude, growth mindset, leadership, metacognition and mindfulness.

"This study is quite compelling because it focuses on the benefits of cultivating these skills and traits from a very early age. Whether that's fostering creativity or your thought process, learning the importance of good character or working well with others," said Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber president and CEO in a statement. "These findings are something educators, policymakers and business leaders should pay attention to and ask themselves: 'Are we really preparing students for the future?' "

Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, told The Journal Gazette he doesn't have much information on Huston's reinventing-high-school proposal, but is aware of the broad outlines.

His organization was a part of the formative discussion.

"Refocusing secondary curriculum has some application, I think, in this day and age, because we are looking at post-secondary work requirements that are much different than they were, say, 20 years ago," Taylor said. "There's not been a lot of definition as to what reinventing high school means, other than legislators are looking at how we improve our educational programming at the secondary level to ensure that we're providing the appropriate post-secondary opportunities and the preparation to participate in those opportunities."

Huston, House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner are advocating for additional work-based learning opportunities for high school students and making it easier for them to access post-secondary education credentials before graduation.

Taylor said expanding work-based learning would have both educational and financial benefits for high schoolers and their families.

"If you can offset (post-secondary) costs with some minimal or no-cost opportunities while the student is in high school, that's an advantage to parents in general and the student," he said. "Let's face it: College debt is a growing issue with all families. So, yeah, I think there are some real potential benefits here."

The governor's education proposal calls for a 6% increase in K-12 tuition support in the first year and an additional 2% boost in the second year of the next budget for nearly $1.2 billion in new money for schools.

It also would expand the On My Way Pre-K program by raising the income criteria from 127% to 138% of the federal poverty limit, making 5,000 more families eligible for preschool tuition.

Though Holcomb will push for a bulk of the new spending to continue to increase teacher pay, he's also proposing to eliminate textbook fees with a new $160 million appropriation to cover the cost of books and other curricular materials. Indiana is one of just seven states that allows schools to charge families textbook fees.

Taylor doesn't find the governor's primary-education proposals, Huston's focus on secondary education and the Indiana Chamber's call for more of an emphasis on life skills to be incongruous. In fact, he sees them as complementary.

"I don't see a benefit in prioritizing a specific age group over another age group. I know that there has to be specific and focused initiatives that address each of those unique need sets," the superintendent association's executive director said. "But it makes sense to consider how we change in preparing our future citizens to be responsive in that ever-changing work environment, and that's part of the obligation of education."

This week, House Speaker Huston will release details on the topic of reinventing high school when he formally announces the House Republican legislative priorities for the biennial budget, Press Secretary Erin Wittern told The Journal Gazette.

We'll withhold our evaluation of the proposal until we've seen more specifics.

But we do see an opportunity for the legislature to assist students in acquiring competencies such as problem solving and teamwork by expanding job-related learning with local employers. Life skills are in fact employment skills, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce survey of employers says.

Let's hope lawmakers' desire to reinvent high school does not diminish their focus on the significant need for strengthening early childhood educational opportunities.




This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"A more solid foundation" Journal Gazette 08 Jan 2023: A7