Focus: Public schools

Gov. Mike Pence has declared that this year’s meeting of the state legislature will be an “education session dedicated to improving all our schools for all our kids.”

Nearly everyone agrees that education should be our legislators’ focus this year. Getting together on the details may pose a bigger challenge.

Pence laid out his priorities in his State of the State speech. But should legislators get in line with Pence, or should they stand up for the specific needs of their home districts?

The first priority Pence mentioned is the biggest — increasing support to public K-12 schools by $200 million over the next two years.

Much of that money needs to go toward equalizing state support for local schools. Many Indiana school districts are not on a level playing field with their neighbors or schools across the state. It’s time to make the funding formula fair to everyone.

Pence also called for doubling the state’s spending on a new system of performance bonuses for outstanding teachers. The state recently handed out $30 million in bonuses to Indiana school districts. Pence wants to give $63 million next year.

The key is making sure we judge teacher performance accurately. Pence overlooks the problem that right now, teachers are being rated partly on the basis of a statewide test that most educators agree is deeply flawed.

Pence proposed “making career and vocational education a priority in every high school again.” He wants to add $20 million to an effort to “dramatically increase the number of students who graduate career-ready” with real credentials to work for industry.

Northeast Indiana legislators should throw their full support behind that goal. We live in the nation’s cradle of manufacturing, and our local industries need new workers who can keep us No. 1.

Pence wants to expand a trial program of state-supported preschool that begins this year in five counties. He proposed spending an additional $10 million, but did not explain how far that would go.

Indiana lags behind most states in preschool education and needs to catch up quickly. This year’s pilot will serve 465 children, so we have a long way to go.

Pence also called for lifting the dollar limit on school vouchers, formally known as “choice scholarships,” for private schools. He did not explain how much that might cost.

Pence said 30,000 Indiana students are using vouchers.

Indiana residents have confidence in our strong network of local public schools. Our legislators should make public schools their top priority as they decide how to spend our tax dollars for education.