Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Posted

Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Feb. 18, 2021.

Editorial: We should all listen to the EARTHlings. Local students show leadership on climate

Adults easily could dismiss as naïve the calls by Vigo County elementary, middle and high school students for better climate change policies and education in the community.

But the young people’s pleas are not naïve. Their urgings are relevant and necessary. And, leaders in all sectors of Terre Haute and Vigo County should take seriously the message of stronger awareness of climate change and resist viewing the realities through a political lens.

The students formed their organization six months ago and gave it a catchy name, EARTHlings. Its core stands for Environmental Activists for a Resilient Terre Haute. They have congregated every Friday since January outside the Vigo County Courthouse as part of the #FridaysforFuture effort, launched in 2018 by teen Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg.

The kids tote signs with slogans such as “Honk For Climate Action Now” and “Kids Want Climate Action.”

Their mission is more than general statements, though. They are asking for concrete steps in bolstering the curriculum in Vigo County schools regarding the impact of the climate change on the community, state, nation and world. The EARTHlings also are proposing updates on climate issues to become part of the morning announcements at the county’s K-through-12 schools, more signs and visual reminders about climate change, videos in classes, information on the Vigo County School Corp. website and lessons on recycling.

Demonstrations at the courthouse and declarations are only part of their strategy. On Jan. 8, five student members of EARTHlings addressed the Vigo County School Board during its work session. They called on the board to pass a resolution acknowledging that climate change is crisis requiring urgent action, and to resolve to include climate change education in the VCSC schools.

The students added a generational perspective for the board to consider.

“As young people, we will have to live through the ever-worsening consequences of our parents’ and grandparents’ refusal to treat the climate emergency like an emergency,” said Honey Creek Middle School sixth-grader Ayush Bhattacharyya.

Admirably, School Board President Jackie Lower took the students’ calls for action not as an affront, but with appreciation for their enthusiasm. “This is the beginning of a conversation,” Lower said. She also recommended the EARTHlings talk with their local state legislators.

There are tangible opportunities for the school and state leaders to act.

State school standards allow climate change lessons in science and social studies courses. Hoosier education policy makers can do better. The National Center for Science Education rates states’ climate change education standards and gave Indiana a “D.” Last month, the Indiana Department of Education announced a new climate change framework through a partnership with Purdue University. The framework offers resources for educators to incorporate climate change in their classes. The Purdue resources and framework are optional for Indiana schools, but Vigo County and other Wabash Valley districts should strongly consider adopting the instruction.

Communites along the Wabash River will increasingly feel the impact of the changing climate. Purdue researchers, the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment team, forecasts that by 2050 injuries and deaths from extreme high temperatures will double, the state’s allergy season will grow by one month, ground-level ozone production will increase and worsen air quality, and mosquito- and tick-borne diseases will intensify.

Like schools, communities can respond. Earlier this month, Evansville announced its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050 and to become a zero-waste community through 58 tactics, ranging from expanded recycling to promoting rooftop solar panels for homes and businesses. Evansville borrowed ideas from South Bend and Indianapolis. Terre Haute could do the same. (See Evansville’s plan online at climateevansville.com.)

Ideally, the young EARTHlings have indeed started a community-wide conversation, as the School Board president said. It also is time for older generations to listen and help them make changes for the better.

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KPC News. Feb. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Lawmakers need to choose schools over ‘school choice’

In case you’re not familiar with the lingo, the term “school choice” basically translates out to “divert more money away from public schools.”

The annual attack has spurred local school districts this year including Lakeland and Fremont among others to formally adopt resolutions and send letters to Indianapolis in opposition of the new measures.

House Bill 1005, Senate Bill 412 and Senate Bill 413 all do slightly different things, but in the end are all similar in that they would use more than $200 million in state public education money to fund tuition to private or parochial schools. The money even could be used to fund unaccredited, unsupervised homeschool programs.

There have also been efforts to defund some vocational programs like culinary arts and cosmetology that the state now feels are less valuable compared to industrial vocations like welding.

Meanwhile, Hoosier lawmakers continue to hamstring public schools with burdensome standardized testing requirements that have no educational value for use in an evaluation system that every school writes off as essentially useless in gauging what their students know or don’t know.

Earlier this year, the state’s Teacher Compensation Commission released a package of 37 recommendations on how to increase funding to public schools and improve teacher pay from one of the worst in the Midwest to something that would make teachers maybe consider staying in the profession instead of leaving after a few years of underpay and under-appreciation.

But what the state’s Republican supermajority has heard from the years of protest by teachers, the recommendations from the state teacher compensation board and ongoing, constant, consistent complaints from school districts about the challenges and issues they’re facing apparently has been “put more money in vouchers.”

Maybe every day is opposite day at the Statehouse?

While 90% of Indiana students attend public school, for some reason state lawmakers seem to be much, much, much more interested in catering to the 10% who don’t.

It raises plenty of questions about who really has the ear of legislators and why? The most prominent of those questions being: Why is public money even going to private institutions in the first place?

Every lawmaker will tell you education is critically important and today’s youth are tomorrow’s workforce, yet at the same time they seem to actively work to undermine the public education system every year.

It should surprise no one that Indiana was recently ranked 40th in the nation for educational attainment and that the state ranks toward the bottom nationally in terms of median household income, which is strongly correlated with quality and breadth of education.

Those failing grades aren’t going to improve by funneling money away from the schools that educate the vast majority of students to private schools that the vast majority of Hoosier families can’t afford even with the stacks of bills lawmakers keep throwing them.

Here’s a novel suggestion: Instead of pushing out the annual “school choice” bills cooked up by who knows who, we suggest lawmakers take a unique approach — actually listen to what public school leaders are telling you.

A good start would be scrapping the school choice bills on the table this year.

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South Bend Tribune. Feb. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Hoosier bills targeting toxic chemicals deserve bipartisan support

At least 29 states have passed or are proposing regulations monitoring a family of toxic chemicals that are ubiquitous and have been linked to severe health issues.

Indiana could join that list, if the efforts of two South Bend legislators are successful.

The bills, authored by Reps. Ryan Dvorak and Maureen Bauer, address “forever chemicals,” a family of toxic chemicals found in everything from fabrics to food service containers. They don’t break down naturally and they’ve been found in drinking water in Indiana.

Dvorak’s bill would establish a maximum contaminant level for PFAS in state drinking water, a measure already adopted by at least six other states. Bauer’s bill would test PFAS levels in current and former military members. Use of the chemicals in the military’s firefighting foam has allowed the toxins to flow through the water and into the ground.

Experts say national regulation is needed to address the contamination. Some believe that change could come from President Joe Biden, who has promised to tackle PFAS pollution and became the first major presidential candidate to acknowledge the toxins during a campaign.

Linda Lee, an agronomy professor at Purdue University, said that action from the states could “trickle down” to the rest of the country — and the more that states take the lead on the issue, the more likely that widespread nationwide change will occur.

Dvorak said his bill takes the critical step of saying that there should be a maximum contaminant level for PFAS, while leaving what the maximum level is to scientists. Five military sites in Indiana have been confirmed to discharge the toxins through its firefighting foam, and Bauer said it’s important for the state to understand the impact such discharge could have had on Indiana service members.

Last year, a bill that would require reducing the use of the firefighting foam in training exercises passed with strong support from Democrats and Republicans. That seems a sign that the issue can garner bipartisan support — and can be applied to the military. The American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturing companies and has helped enact similar legislation to reduce PFAS chemicals in firefighting foams, has advocated for letting the EPA lead the regulation effort.

The current bills are positive steps for a state whose pollution ranks among the worst in the country. The issue is a matter of public health and deserves bipartisan support.

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