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Legislative changes to be on the lookout for this new school year

With students heading into their first full week of the 2023-2024 school year, I wanted to highlight some of the new education policies that came out of the General Assembly this past legislative session.

As we were reminded throughout the pandemic, schools offer kids so much more than an education. Schools are a place to build social skills, make friends and cultivate relationships that shape who they are. However, academic institutions are also a place that can pose serious mental health risks in the all too often occurrence of bullying. This year, I authored House Enrolled Act 1483 that clarifies the reporting, documentation and discipline requirements for incidents of bullying. The bill establishes an expedited timetable of no more than five business days for schools to report the incident to the parents of both the victim and alleged perpetrator. Another addition is the requirement of school corporations to adopt rules including the prioritization of victim safety, provisions for determining severity of incidents, and whether a transfer for either perpetrator or victim is warranted.

Prior to this legislation, there was no timeline for schools to notify the parents of incidents of bullying.  As both targets and bullies may be reluctant to talk about an incident at the dinner table, this enables parents to help their children seek the support and help they need at home. Bullying can lead to increased risks of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among school-aged children, and groups that are already at a higher likelihood for suicide are also more likely to be targets of bullying such as LGBTQ+ youth or minorities. This school year, I hope young Hoosiers will find support from their parents and protection from their schools when they face bullying so that they can focus on academic development and growing into a strong, confident person.

Legislative Changes for the New School Year scaled e1693572679330

Another notable change, the legislature amended schools’ curriculum to include the “science of reading.” Based on 50 years of neurological research, this strategy of teaching literacy breaks reading down into the categories of phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The intention is to give kids a toolbox of skills to use to recognize almost any unrecognized word. The law passed not only standardizes the method across Indiana’s public schools but mandates that higher education institutions include the “science of reading” for future educators and provides current educators the resources to switch to this method. Learning to read lays the groundwork for a bright and successful future, and it is vital that Indiana provides the best possible method to do so.

The new budget waves fees for curricular materials such as textbooks, iPads and laptops. While this is huge help to families in our community, public schools are left to front part of the bill by dipping into their already struggling base funding since a per-student amount was not determined. This is just one of the budgetary shortcomings we must face when it comes to public schools.

The budget passed this spring undercuts Indiana’s public schools due to huge carve outs for already-wealthy families to send their children to expensive private schools. Families who make up to $220,000 are now eligible for private school vouchers, which undermines the original intent of the program to help underprivileged families choose the education that fit their child’s needs. Public schools are chronically underfunded, and the remaining teachers are often forced to pay out of pocket for classroom supplies. The 92.2% of Hoosier families that send their kids to public schools deserve more, including those in House District 14.

I hope that the school year kicks off to a good start for both our students and our dedicated teachers. I am excited to continue my work as the ranking minority member on the House Education Committee to help Hoosier public schools and students flourish.

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