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Columns

October 31, 2013

THEIR OPINION — For Oct. 31

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press

Put state economic puzzle pieces together

Recently the Indiana Economic Development Corp. undertook an economic development campaign many questioned the wisdom of — a flashy neon ad in Times Square with the slogan about Indiana declaring it “a state that works.” How many people who hang out in that particular New York City spot are pondering where they want to move their businesses?

Now the agency has come up with another deal that should meet with greater approval. In a first-of-its-kind deal, it will pay “a low seven-sum figure over two years” to have that same slogan on the hardwood floors of the Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It will be seen by millions of people when the team’s home games are televised — to all the major markets in the United States, where there are lots of executives thinking about relocation.

For years now, the state has been busy creating a business-friendly environment of low tax rates and sensible regulations. But it hasn’t spent that much money trying to get the word out about the efforts. No matter how welcoming the state is, nobody will bother to look here if they aren’t told about it. State officials at least seem to realize that now.

In the meantime, Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, argues that there is a missing piece in the economic development puzzle. In addition to doing things businesses will find attractive, we must do things that the workers in those businesses will find attractive. That means making our communities as livable as we can. Skilled workers have choices, and for many of them quality of life means more than anything else.

“My read of the research is that for young, mobile and educated households, school quality is the primary determinant of relocation decisions,” Hicks is quoted by an Indianapolis newspaper. Other important amenities, such as housing, arts and culture, parks and transportation options are also important. Happily, the things we can concentrate on to lure skilled workers are also the things that will make communities more attractive to the people already living in them.

Economic development, we understand these days, is not something to be done piecemeal, with more or less enthusiasm depending on who has political power. It has to be an ongoing, sustained effort that continually builds on what has been done before.

Almost all the pieces are either in place or at least identified now. It is time to start putting them together to create a state economy that can be sustained over the long haul.

— The Tribune, Seymour

Feud between Ritz, state board is disservice

It’s time for an intervention between state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the state Board of Education in a bid to fix their increasingly dysfunctional working relationship.

For months, the superintendent and the board have fought with each other over policy, over vision, even over meeting agendas. Strong tensions are palpable at public meetings. And Ritz and her staff have repeatedly traded public barbs with board members and officials in Gov. Mike Pence’s administration.

The feud hit a new low this past week when Ritz took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit against the board, a body she leads as chairwoman. The lawsuit contends that 10 members of the board violated the state public meeting law by circulating a letter among themselves through email. The letter, sent Oct. 16 to House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, requested that the Legislative Services Agency take over the job of calculating school grades for the 2012-13 school year. Those grades have been delayed because of concerns raised by Ritz and others over the accuracy of the data. Ritz has been an outspoken critic of the A-F grading system set up by her predecessor, Republican Tony Bennett.

On Thursday, Attorney General Greg Zoeller waded into the controversy, first by offering to mediate the dispute between Ritz and the board, and then by arguing that the superintendent lacks the legal standing to file the suit.

Zoeller is right about at least one thing. Someone needs to serve as mediator between Ritz and the board to steer the state’s top education leaders back to their primary job of helping improve student achievement. The Republican attorney general, however, likely is not the right person given the partisan aspects of the feud.

What can be done? Ritz and the board need to refocus their attention on some key facts that show how critical it is to improve educational outcomes in Indiana. Workers in Indiana, for example, rank 42nd in the nation in education attainment. The state’s colleges spend tens of millions of dollars each year to help students catch up on skills they should have learned in high school. And, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 67 percent of Indiana’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading as of 2011 and 66 percent of eighth-graders were not proficient in math.

It’s that reality, and what it means for the future of this state, that ought to compel all involved to set aside political and philosophical differences and work together to solve real problems.

Like it or not, the A-F grading system is the law. Ritz and her team need to expedite this year’s results. At the same time, Ritz was elected by voters only last year. Republicans need to accept that and search for areas of compromise where both sides can agree.

The need to improve student achievement in Indiana is urgent, and the task is daunting even when the leadership works well together. There’s danger, given the current breakdown, that progress made in improving Indiana’s schools could be set back.

That outcome is unacceptable.

— The Indianapolis Star

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