Public education, and how to improve it, is a top priority for two state senate candidates.
Jesse Kharbanda and Sean Gorman both are vying to become the Democratic nominee for the State Senate District 36 seat, which covers south central Marion County and a sliver of north central Johnson County.
Kharbanda, the executive director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, lists economic opportunities for working families and the environment as his other chief concerns.
Gorman, an attorney and compliance manager for a health insurance company, said the focus should be on infrastructure and cleaning up the fallout from last year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
But both agree that improving public education, especially by retaining and attracting quality teachers, is a pressing issue.
Kharbanda wants to increase funding for public schools and give teachers more say and flexibility in teaching methods, mirroring the model of charter schools.
“I’d like to see our public schools feel sufficiently empowered to adopt more of those qualities,” Kharbanda said. “I think if public schools feel legally authorized to carry out innovations within the context of public schools, that will help with retention and attraction of teachers. That, in turn, will lead to higher scores.”
“The degree to which we can empower teachers to do what they think is necessary based on their understanding of the personalities of the kids in their classrooms and the learning styles of the kids in their classrooms, we will be better off from a performance standpoint.”
Gorman, who has worked for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said better teacher pay and less emphasis on standardized testing are keys to improving education.
“I don’t think increasing standardized testing is the answer,” Gorman said. “As a parent, I see how much time and energy is spent in the school day and the school year just preparing for these assessments. There does need to be accountability, and you have to figure out how to do that, but I don’t think more standardized testing is the way to go.”
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot when teacher pay isn’t attracting quality educators into the profession, so that’s something that I think needs to be done that would benefit our students in Indiana. It’s really an investment in the long term. That’s the perspective that our legislature needs to take when restructuring public education.”
Gorman also views revisiting Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act and increasing funding for infrastructure as the legislature’s top priorities.
“Our legislature still needs to make amends from the fallout of the Religious Freedom Act debacle from last year’s legislative session,” Gorman said. “They weren’t able to address that fully, and really the only way they’re going to is to identify gender identity, LGBT status, as a civil rights issue.”
As for funding Indiana’s crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure, Gorman said raising fuel taxes is a better option than the proposed cigarette tax increase that passed the Indiana House last session because then road work would be funded by all who use it.
“We really need to fund our infrastructure by generating revenue from those who benefit from it,” Gorman said.
“We need to identify exactly how much we need to make our infrastructure maintainable, and then fund it appropriately by passing the cost on to those who benefit from having that infrastructure.”
Head of the state’s largest environmental policy organization, Kharbanda lists improving economic opportunities for Indiana families and the environment as the legislature’s other top priorities.
Green energy can create new jobs, so passing a local form of Property-Assessed Clean Energy Funding legislation, which helps property owners pay for energy efficient projects through an addition to their property tax bills, could be an avenue to job creation. And local governments, including the county and local cities and towns, could approve their own legislation, he said.
“We’ve seen a decline in household income for Hoosiers over the last 10 years, and I think one huge economic opportunity for the state as whole is clean tech,” Kharbanda said. “There are barriers to development of clean energy jobs in Indiana that the Indiana Legislature could affect.”
Education: University of Chicago and University of Oxford
Work: Executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council
Past political experience: None
Family: Engaged to be marred; has three daughters and one son
Education: Graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s of science in public affairs and law degree.
Work: Attorney and compliance manager for a health insurance company
Past political experience: None