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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

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The (Munster) Times. January 30, 2018

Construction wage repeal needs review

From acts of Congress to local government ordinances, lawmakers from all levels should be willing to put their codified policies to the test.

In that vein, the Indiana Legislature should push for an empirical review of the General Assembly's 2015 repeal of the common construction wage statute.

Whether the law remains off Indiana's books or put back on, the decision should be made on statistical evidence and hard data, not political ideologies.

In a recent report provided to The Times, the Midwest Economic Policy Institute concluded that following the common wage repeal, Hoosier construction workers earned less than they did before, with no meaningful cost savings for Indiana taxpayers.

The law had been seen by proponents as a sort of guaranteed minimum wage for construction workers.

Opponents of the ultimately repealed law, including former Gov. Mike Pence, argued eliminating the county minimum pay rates for public works projects would save the state and local government agencies money without reducing construction workers' paychecks.

Drawing on U.S. Department of Labor statistics for the four quarters before and after the law was repealed, the institute concluded Hoosier construction wages fell by an average of 8.5 percent after the repeal.

The lowest-paid workers saw their paychecks fall by an average of 15 percent, according to the institute.

Construction wages in neighboring Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, meanwhile, grew a combined 2.8 percent.

The institute also reported the repeal didn't contribute to more competition for public works projects, among other findings, and thus didn't lead to measurable savings.

Region conservative voice, Indiana House Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, broke with the Republican majority by opposing the law's repeal in 2015.

It wasn't unusual for Soliday, who gives understandable deference to his labor-rich constituency.

Soliday believes the common construction wage hastens the hiring of local workers who "spend their money locally."

He also questions how effective the repeal has been in light of the recent institute study.

It's important to note the institute study concluded overall union businesses grew their Hoosier market share after the repeal to 91 percent of market value, up from 87 percent.

So the news hasn't been all bad for organized labor.

Now the Legislature owes it to all of us to ensure the repeal is hitting the intended marks promised when it was adopted.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. January 31, 2018

Nassar, MSU case should place all of Big Ten community on high alert

The national spotlight on Michigan State University's possible role in allowing USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to abuse at least 200 young women over a period of two decades shines brightly in a Big Ten community such as Bloomington. As it should.

Indiana University has hundreds of student-athletes, both male and female, along with doctors and trainers and coaches of both genders. The university is responsible for acting on any complaints of impropriety quickly and forcefully to guarantee the protection of the young people under its wing.

The same is true, of course, for MSU where Nassar was a sports medicine doctor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine in addition to his role caring for Olympic-level gymnasts. A Detroit News report found that at least 14 Michigan State staff members received complaints about Nassar in the time he worked there.

While the university did very little to curtail his behavior, the doctor continued sexually assaulting women under the guise of medical examinations and treatment. Now, prompted largely by exceptional reporting by our Hoosier colleagues at the Indianapolis Star, Nassar has entered a guilty plea and been sentenced to literally hundreds of years in prison; MSU's president and athletic director have resigned; and more dominoes are expected to fall.

Both MSU's leadership and the NCAA must investigate what complicity the university might have had in covering for Nassar, as well as look deeply into how other sexual assault allegations within MSU football and basketball programs have been handled.

Though we have no reason to doubt IU officials place the safety and welfare of student-athletes as their highest priority, this is a good time to step back and examine how that priority is being ensured. Nassar's case and its link to MSU should prompt such examination at all Big Ten schools, if not all members at all levels of the NCAA.

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South Bend Tribune. February 1, 2018

Indiana House GOP smoking bill

After years of failing to put adequate resources into fighting the losses - measured in human lives and dollars and cents - tied to Indiana's above-average smoking rate, state lawmakers found another way to signal their disregard for the issue.

On Tuesday, Indiana House Republicans killed a bill that would have increased the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. The measure by Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown had the support of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and veterans groups. A House panel on Monday had passed the bill by a 9-0 vote.

House Speaker Brian Bosma used a procedural maneuver to kill the bill. House Republicans defended their decision by claiming that the bill would have an immediate financial impact - according to their calculations, it would cost the state $14 million per year in lost cigarette tax revenue.

Brown argued that the bill would save money in the long run, that if fewer people smoke, the cost of health care to the state would decrease as well. Latorya Greene of the local coalition Smoke Free St. Joe, had offered another reason for backing the measure: She says 90 percent of smokers started smoking before age 18 and "any measure that can delay that, we truly support."

Not surprisingly the bill was opposed by the convenience store lobby, which said that it would cost them revenue, drive people to other states to buy tobacco and lead to an increase in cigarette bootlegging.

By refusing to even allow the measure to be brought up for a vote, House Republicans further demonstrate how low this health and economic issue ranks on their list of priorities.

This despite a 2016 report found that each year smoking causes more than 11,000 Hoosiers to die prematurely and secondhand smoke causes the premature deaths of an additional 1,400 Indiana residents. And that disability claims, absenteeism and "lost time from smoking rituals" cost Indiana businesses an estimated $2.6 billion per year in lost productivity.

In an ideal world, Indiana lawmakers wouldn't have raided money from the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement, money specifically intended to pay for smoking cessation efforts and public initiatives. In an ideal world, the state wouldn't have shortchanged programs to help smokers quit and prevent youth from picking up the habit in the first place.

But this isn't an ideal world; this is Indiana, where a sincere effort to attack the problem can't even get a vote.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. February 2, 2018

Cycle of frustration

The pattern in Indiana education policy has become all too familiar:

1. Pass a law to disrupt public education in the pursuit of "reform."

2. Express dismay over the repercussions of the new law without acknowledging what caused them.

3. Pass another law to "fix" the problems created, doing additional harm to public schools.

The most recent example surfaced Wednesdaywhen a last-minute amendment was added to a bill to allow public schools to fill up to 10 percent of staff with unlicensed teachers. Why is this necessary? Because some school districts are struggling to hire faculty in the face of teacher shortages. Why are there shortages? Because laws regarding teacher evaluations, tenure and collective bargaining have made the field less attractive.

A study released last month confirms what teacher unions and others said would happen when so-called reformerssought to tie student achievement to teacher evaluations and tie results of those evaluations to teacher promotion and pay.

"Our findings document how both adopting high-stakes evaluation systems and eliminating tenure protections reduce the supply of new teaching candidates available to public schools," write the researchers from Brown, Syracuse and the University of Connecticut.

"Our analyses also provide a direct empirical test of a key assumption of the teacher quality literature, namely that accountability reforms do not affect the willingness of prospective teachers to enter the teacher labor market," the authors write. "Many prior studies estimate potential learning gains from dismissing low-performing teachers through simulation analyses that rely on the untested assumption that dismissed teachers can always be replaced with average-quality novice teachers."

The nationwide study noted 44 states implemented high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. With pressure from the Obama administration's Race to the Top program and state lawmakers eager to minimize the influence of teacher unions, Indiana's changes were approved in 2014. But The Journal Gazette first began reporting declines in teacher preparation programs in 2011, when the number of education majors at IPFW fell 19 percent between 2010 and 2011. Teachers College enrollment was down 8 percent at Ball State University that fall, 20 percent at Manchester College.

Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, added the last-minute licensing language to Senate Bill 387 during Wednesday's Senate Education Committee meeting, at the request of the Indiana Department of Education. It represents one of many attempts by Indiana Republicans to reduce teacher licensure requirements, in line with model legislation supported by the corporate-controlled American Legislative Exchange Council.

"We're trying to create opportunities to fill positions," Zay said. "What I'd like to see ... is doors are wide open for people to come in and teach."

The measure would allow school districts to hire teachers with alternative licenses that require little more than bachelor degrees or no licenses at all.

How will this serve Indiana students? Given its 11th-hour appearance, which allowed the education community no time to examine research and consider the amendment's strengths or weaknesses, that's anyone's guess.

SB 387 is expected to go to the full Senate next week, where it's likely to win approval. Don't expect the cycle of flawed education policy spawning more flawed education policy to end anytime soon.

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