Though the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly has come to an end, legislators are already gearing up for next year. Last week, the Legislative Council – a bipartisan group of senators and representatives – met to establish the top priorities for this summer's study committees.
Study committees are carried out during the summer and fall months of each year, and provide lawmakers with an opportunity for in-depth analysis and expert testimony on challenging issues facing our state. These committees set the groundwork for future legislation and, as such, are a vital component of Indiana's lawmaking process.
There are several topics that require legislative review this year. As chair of the Legislative Council, I worked to ensure that the issues most important to Hoosiers are given the time and resources necessary to find the best solutions.
No topic is more important than the education of our youth. Legislators will address several different policy ideas this summer with the goal of improving our schools and focusing on student needs in the classroom.
One of the most important issues up for study involves Indiana's pioneering School Choice program. Indiana has been a leader in education reforms that steer focus back to the student, including our expansive scholarship program that allows children at failing schools to attend a private school that better fits their needs. As we implement and expand these reforms, we want to be sure they are having the desired results.
As part of House Enrolled Act 1003, lawmakers will study why parents choose to enroll a child in a choice scholarship school, the academic performance of choice scholarship schools in comparison to public schools, and student growth and achievement for those enrolled in choice scholarship schools over time. This research will help us move forward in a way that reflects what's happening in the classroom to ensure student success.
Also this summer, legislators will be studying the federal education standards known as Common Core. During the 2013 session, the General Assembly approved House Enrolled Act 1427, placing a halt on the implementation of these new, top-down standards until we can determine whether or not they are in the best interest of Hoosier students. During study committee hearings, policymakers will compare Common Core with Indiana's existing standards and seek feedback from parents, teachers and communities across the state to make sure these important classroom decisions are made at the local level.
Higher education issues are also on the agenda for summer study, with the goal of finding ways to reduce college costs for Hoosier families and increase on-time degree completion rates.
Another major issue lawmakers are dedicated to researching this summer is how best to protect Hoosier children. In the wake of Newtown and other tragedies, the General Assembly passed Senate Enrolled Act 1 this session, creating a grant program to help schools hire fully trained school resource officers for extra security. As part of this initiative, study committee members will work to develop best practices for these officers and look at other ways to improve the safety of schools in Indiana.
Additionally, Senate Enrolled Act 125 created the Child Services Oversight Committee to study issues concerning vulnerable youth, including child fatalities. This summer's committee is tasked with creating strategies and making recommendations for the safety of children and prevention of serious injuries or deaths of children.
A final key study committee topic covers Indiana's criminal justice system and the new overhaul of our state's felony sentencing policies that the legislature passed this year. House Enrolled Act 1006 changed our criminal sentencing code from four levels to six levels, and put tighter restrictions on the worst offenders' ability to get out of prison early. These reforms were designed to better balance our felony sentences, making sure prison resources are focused on our most dangerous criminals. As part of that balance, summer study committee members will look at possible funding increases that may be necessary to promote local rehabilitation for low-level offenders.