Lawmakers to study ISTEP, Common Core, mass transit and more


  • Courtesy of scui3asteveo Flickr creative commons
By Sandie Love

Lawmakers will study education standards called the Common Core, recent problems with the ISTEP test, a proposed mass transit program for Central Indiana and dozen of other issues in preparation for their 2014 session.

Study committees will also take a look at some programs involved in emerging scandals - the Indianapolis Land Bank, which moves abandoned housing into the hands of nonprofit organizations, and the way some local casino revenues are spent.

The Legislative Council - an administrative arm of the General Assembly - approved the study committee topics at a meeting Thursday at the Statehouse.

Most of the studies are about questions that lawmakers couldn't resolve during the 2013 session - which ended in April - or thought they needed more information to tackle.

"The General Assembly thought it best to take additional time and study in depth some of the legislation before we decide to make any changes to our state's policy," House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said in a statement Thursday.

"We realize that every bill passed in the state legislature has a direct effect on Hoosiers, and it is important that we not make any rash decisions," he said. "It's prudent to take a thoughtful approach to legislation."

The ISTEP study comes after system problems at CTB/McGraw-Hill - the vendor that handles the testing - caused computers to freeze and students to be kicked out of their tests. That led to delays in testing.

The vote to study the Indianapolis Land Bank comes just days after the FBI raided the agency and U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett announced charges against five defendants accused of defrauding the public.
  • Courtesy of Shenghung Lin Flickr Creative Commons
And the casino study follows reports by The Indianapolis Star that a group charged with distributing casino revenue in southeast Indiana made questionable decisions about the money.

The ISTEP study in particular is expected to start quickly and the work of all the groups is due no later than Nov 1. The committees are bipartisan and include members of the House and Senate.

Here are some of the topics under consideration

Common Core

The Common Core study could be the most controversial on the list. The legislature voted earlier this year to delay the implementation of Common Core, a series of national curriculum standards as the Board of Education, so lawmakers could take a closer look.

Common Core was originally created by a group of state legislative leaders, but is now endorsed by President Barack Obama and has been adopted in a majority of states. The study committee is charged with comparing existing Indiana standards with the Common Core, along with standards from other states. The committee will also attempt to find the best ways to develop and adopt the standards. The group is to get input from teachers, national experts on SAT and ACT testing, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and other people who are knowledgeable about state and national education standards.

The committee will also consider the cost to state and school corporations if the Common Core is accepted.

School safety

A committee will be examining how to improve the safety of schools in Indiana, including a look at whether at least some staff should be required to carry guns in school.

Lawmakers in April approved legislation that will give grants to schools to hire resource officers, who are trained as police officers and would be allowed to exert police powers, such as making arrests and the search and seizure of persons and property.

Republican Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour successfully amended the bill to require that all schools have an armed person on campus at all times. But the House later stripped that provision from the bill in favor of studying the issue this summer.

Felony sentencing costs

Another committee will study the fiscal impact of a new law that revamps the state's felony sentencing system - the costs to local government. The group will also study other issues related to sentencing.

The new law reduces penalties for many low level felonies, which is expected to boost the need for local criminal justice programs. The legislature did not, however, approve funding for those programs.

Ag gag

The Legislative Council sent what's been termed the "ag gag" to an economic development study committee for consideration

Lawmakers earlier this year considered legislation that would have strengthened trespassing penalties against those who take photos on private industrial or farmland. But later versions made it illegal to shoot photos or video on any private property - and for the media to air or run those images. The bill ultimately died after one Republican complained the bill would prevent him from taking pictures of a constituent complaining about her care in a nursing home.

"The bill had been broadened so that instead of being an ag gag bill, it became an 'all gag' bill," said Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, which opposed the bill. "It would have made it illegal to have a picture on your phone of cockroaches at a restaurant that convinced others not to eat at that restaurant."

School vouchers

The Commission on Education will be studying the state's two-year-old private school voucher program, which the General Assembly voted in April to expand.

The commission will also study issues involving absenteeism, school improvement plans, the addition of school attendance requirements to welfare eligibility standards, teacher preparation programs, the length of the school year and high performance school flexibility.

The group will also consider whether to expand the state's law that's meant to protect student athletes who suffer concussions. The group will study whether the law should expand to protect children of all ages.

Mass transit

The House this year approved legislation that would have dictated that voters decide in a referendum whether to approve tax hikes to pay for the project. But the Senate removed that language, and sent the issue to a study committee after lawmakers said they needed more time to consider the proposal's impact.

The bill's author, Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said then that allowing a study committee to consider the issue might be the only way for a bill on mass transit to pass next year with the support of both houses.

"I don't think the Senate will go along with the concept next year unless we do have a study during the summer," Torr said.

Sandie Love is a reporter for, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.


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