Key leaders in education have several legislative priorities for the upcoming session – including a focus on mental health, making high school more relevant and pushing early literacy and early learning in schools.
The concept of “reinventing high school” was on the forefront of this discussion.
Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) is the House education committee chair. He said current high school curricula often does not prepare students enough for the workforce.
“In March of 2021, there were 916,000 jobs created in this economy,” he said. “Only 7,000 of that 916,000 jobs went to adults with a high school diploma only.”
Behning said this emphasized the importance of post-secondary education for those entering the workforce. Additionally, he said making math more relevant with components like financial literacy, simple interest and mortgage rates tied into coursework would make these courses better prepare students for the real world.
Indiana’s Secretary of Education, Katie Jenner, said it is important to promote other aspects of rethinking high school – including work-based learning and access to post-secondary education credentials during high school.
“In the four years we have children in high school, how do we really maximize that time, so they're set up for the best possible success?” Jenner said.
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She also advocated for a focus on mental health for the upcoming session.
Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) echoed this commitment – discussing data that demonstrated poor mental health for many students.
“I served on the Child Fatality Review Committee this summer and also last summer,” he said. “Children in our state ages 10 to 14, the no. 1 cause of death is student suicide. [For] ages 15 to 17, the no. 1 cause of death is motor vehicle accidents, but the no. 2 cause of death is student suicide. So we know our students are not doing well.”
Ford said his caucus will also push for an LGBTQ+ student protections bill, which hopes to identify the places in education code where sexual orientation and gender identity are left out.
Additional priorities discussed were a push for more early childhood literacy, a focus on the educator pipeline and a push for deregulation (ensuring teachers are only required to be certified in areas that are vital to their teaching success).
The leaders also offered their perspective on so-called "critical race theory" legislation coming through.
“At this stage of the game, the culture war should not be proliferated in the classroom,” said Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), Senate education committee chair.
Ford agreed, and said the state had “more important priorities to deal with.”
Despite this, Behning said he “guaranteed” bills would still be introduced on this topic.