By Caryl Auslander, vice president of education and workforce development

The needle moved in the right direction in some areas but remained stagnant in others. Part of this had to do with not opening up the budget to fund meaningful programs (which we knew was not going to happen in a short session) and part was due to frustratingly different philosophies … more on that later.

Notable progress

Taking the input of our K-12 and technology policy committees, the Indiana Chamber endorsed one of Governor Holcomb’s top legislative priorities – having computer science available in every K-12 school in the state.

Senate Bill 172, Computer Science Curriculum, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond) requires that every public school, including charter schools, embed computer science training in grades K-12 starting in the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, at that time, every high school must offer a one-semester elective computer science course to students. Funding was also secured to provide professional development to educators across the state.

The Indiana Chamber took it a step further to request that computer science be a graduation requirement for all high school students. However, once we learned that only 197 of 398 Indiana high schools currently offer computer science as an elective course, we realized that SB 172 was an important first step in the process.

Another win was in response to the Indiana Chamber Foundation’s annual employer survey, which indicated that employers are struggling to find workers with strong soft skills or employability skills. Senator Raatz introduced SB 297 to address this issue; it requires the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to work collaboratively to develop interdisciplinary employability skills in the K-12 standards.

The legislation also codifies the Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate program – a high school program developed by DWD, which is directly informed and validated by local employers and provides real-world currency for students associated with it. Employers often guarantee interviews and even provide signing bonuses and higher starting wages for graduates of the program. This legislation also expands the Indiana Career Explorer pilot program to enhance critical college and career readiness to include another 15 middle schools.

A long-time Chamber priority has been to help address the teacher shortage issues by providing increased pay to teachers in high-need areas such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and special education. Senate Bill 387, authored by Sen. Andy Zay (R-Huntington), allows for supplemental pay for teachers (in these high-need areas) outside of the collective bargaining agreement. It also permits differential pay as a part of the negotiated pay scale. This new law represents a huge movement to help ensure that we raise the teaching profession, address shortage needs and allow for students to have the best educators possible in these critical areas.

The Indiana Chamber spent much of the summer and fall of 2017 participating as an appointed member to the Graduation Pathways panel – figuring out alternatives to graduation beyond the end-of-course assessments. After many hours of meetings and negotiations, we supported recommendations that went before the State Board of Education. The result of those negotiated recommendations was the introduction of HB 1426, authored by Rep. Bob Behning (R-Plainfield).

This bill moves Indiana to a single high school diploma model, which starts at the Core 40 level with an opt-out to the general diploma. It also provides language to explore alternatives to Algebra II; the Chamber supported this language while also stating our push for all high school students to have four years of math as a graduation requirement.

A mixed bag

As we move to workforce development – a top priority for both the Chamber and Governor Holcomb – we made some strides with House Bill 1002. Authored by Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers), this served as the House mega workforce bill for the session. It codified the Next Level Jobs employer training grant program established by the Governor in 2017 and increased the funding to $10 million, which we supported.

We also applaud the author for the creative idea of the establishment of a CTE (career and technical education) student database portal so student information can be provided to local employers for recruitment purposes. Additionally, we support the in-depth analysis and study of all workforce programs by the Legislative Services Agency over the next 10 years. These programs represent good initial steps in helping to address the workforce needs of employers across the state.

Meanwhile, SB 50 had some issues. Authored by Sen. Doug Eckerty (R-Yorktown), this legislation repeals the State Workforce Innovation Council (SWIC) and replaces it with the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet. Not only does the Chamber have an appointed seat on SWIC, it is chaired by an Indiana Chamber board member, plus we have five additional board members appointed to the council as well as over a dozen employer members. Our representation is significantly lessened by the Governor’s new cabinet, despite assurances and language added at the last minute saying that the employer representative to the cabinet would be made after consulting with us directly.

While we understand the need to sometimes “shake things up” in order to make things more productive, it is disheartening to see that the representative for employers across the state was not included as an appointed member to the panel, despite persistent discussions with legislative leaders and the Governor’s office. We also have concerns that dissolution of the SWIC (which is federally mandated) might mean the loss of significant federal funding (the state is seeking a waiver to avoid this). These two events led to our neutral position on the bill. We have had more discussions with the Governor’s team since signage of the bill in the hopes that we can continue to have a seat at the table and offer a voice for employers from throughout the state.

Resource: Caryl Auslander at (317) 264-6880 or email: [email protected]