Teachers Deserve (and Need) Our Support

This column by Indiana Chamber VP of Education and Workforce Development Policy Caryl Auslander originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, what better opportunity is there to celebrate the people who make such a positive impact on so many lives.

I’m talking, of course, about teachers. That makes it all the more troubling to see recent stories about a dramatic decline in education school enrollment, as well as district difficulties in finding qualified teachers for available openings.

The all-too public disputes between the Indiana Department of Education and the State Board of Education are hopefully a thing of the past. There is no worse example, or bigger drain on morale, than adult battles that can – and should – be avoided.

As a wife, daughter and sister of teachers, I see firsthand the passion and commitment they bring to their work. As someone advocating in the areas of education and workforce development, I’m in constant contact with others who share that dedication to seeing all students have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m proud that my employer has a mission that calls for providing “economic opportunity and prosperity for the people of Indiana” and leads an Indiana Vision 2025 plan that boasts Outstanding Talent as its most important economic driver.

I’m pleased that our state has opened new doors for families through the introduction and expansion of charter schools and vouchers. These schools and these programs, like all others in education, however, must continue to demonstrate proven results. There is no room for underperformance in this critical enterprise.

I’m happy that the Indiana Chamber and its allies have helped deliver alternative routes for persons holding professional degrees to share their expertise by becoming teachers. The success stories of these career changers and the lives they impact continue to grow.

I’m encouraged that full-day kindergarten options are in place and that preschool pilot programs are taking off in a few selected counties. The expedient expansion of early education, especially for low-income and other disadvantaged population, is hopefully among the next steps. The results are proven and the need is great.

But what about those teachers? They are the MOST critical factor in each student’s ability to obtain the quality education that allows them to become productive members of society. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to attract, retain and reward the best teachers. “More” includes:

  • Increasing starting pay for teachers to attract the best and brightest to the profession
  • Paying our best teachers more money
  • Directing more than the 57% (as of 2013) of every K-12 dollar that reaches the classroom
  • Providing meaningful feedback and professional development for all educators
  • Celebrating teaching successes and lifting up those who have the greatest classroom impact

While teachers play that crucial role, discussions about public education need to focus on the students. Equal access to quality education and success in school for every child is the most important social justice issue of our time. That quality education is the surest way to break cycles of poverty, transform individual lives, lift up our communities and our state, and attract the best employers and jobs.

Thousands of well-paying jobs are going unfilled today and our future ability to secure the best jobs relies on what we do now to provide educational opportunities for all. Every child, every school and every community benefits when all children are learning and succeeding.

Education is not about public versus private or unions versus politicians. It’s about parents, educators, employers, communities and all others coming together and creating an expectation, opportunity and clear path to success for every child.

Chamber Promotes Life Sciences in D.C.

7324001The Indiana Chamber is a proud partner in Hoosiers Work for Health, which promotes the biopharmaceutical and life sciences industry, and visited with Indiana’s elected representatives in Washington, D.C. July 15-16 to discuss issues such as patent
reform, taxation and FDA regulatory procedures.

The Chamber joined several other Hoosiers Work for Health representatives for office visits on Capitol Hill. The group met with Reps. Susan Brooks (R-5th District) and Larry Bucshon (R-8th District), both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as Rep. Todd Young (R-9th District), who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. The group also visited with key staff members for Sens. Dan Coats (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) while the Senate held floor votes on an education bill.

It is clear from the conversation with Indiana’s elected officials that they understand the importance of the biopharmaceutical/life sciences sector to the economic health of Indiana. This sector directly supports more than 20,000 jobs across the state and generates $19 billion in economic output. By creating high paying jobs, biopharmaceutical companies build a strong foundation from which we can grow our state economy – providing stability and prosperity into the future.

A-F School Grades and Accountability Debate Continues

The newly-redesigned Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met recently for the second time this year with what seemed to be very little fireworks and drama. However, there was a very serious and important discussion regarding A-F grades and accountability that is important to watch.

As a reminder, an overhauled ISTEP exam was designed last year to align with recently adopted college and career readiness standards in Indiana. Complaints from parents and teachers were significant regarding the length of testing time for the ISTEP exam earlier this year. The redesigned test was expected to take upwards of 12 hours – more than double the time of previous years. Fortunately, the Legislature – with assistance by the Chamber – was successful in passing legislation allowing the test to be significantly shortened by three hours.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz stated during the July 1 SBOE meeting that other states, specifically New York and Kentucky, have seen dramatic drops in passing rates of students for the first year a change is made in standards and high-stakes exams. Therefore, Ritz provided a list of options for the State Board to discuss on how to handle this situation and suggested a proposal she called “hold harmless” that would assign the better A-F grades between the 2013-2014 year and the 2014-2015 year.

Her reasoning was that even a small deviation in test scores due to the increased rigor of the test could cause schools to drop two letter grades with the potential of the number of schools that would receive an F to more than double. Ritz fears that would cause many schools in Indiana to be unfairly labeled as failing, as well as public image issues and misunderstanding. This is not the first time Ritz has called for a pause of accountability; she has done so many times previously for various reasons to delay sanctions and consequences of lower test scores for schools (also part of her campaign platform) – only to have the SBOE and Indiana General Assembly quickly dismiss the idea.

This go-round, SBOE members had significant concerns over Ritz’s proposal. Sarah O’Brien, who was elected earlier that morning as the group’s new vice chair, stated that this discussion was extremely premature – as grades had not yet even been assigned. Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) officials stated that they expect ISTEP scores this year to be released in November, with A-F grades to follow in December. SBOE member Gordon Hendry added his concerns regarding transparency, as parents of schools with lower grades would not know that their school’s grades had actually dropped.

There was also significant discussion as to whether the 12 options (including the one that Ritz supported) would even be legal. However, some of the options, including the one supported by IDOE, would not need changes in state law or approval from the U.S. Department of Education. State Board members made a recommendation and voted to have Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office review the 12 options and provide a legal opinion as to which option, if any, would be best for Indiana. Further discussions and a vote of support would be the next step for the SBOE and then a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education would be filed.

The Indiana Chamber fully supports transparency and accountability when it comes to grades for Hoosier students and schools. Creating a strong and dynamic workforce is a key goal of our strategic plan, Indiana Vision 2025. Having accountability measures means that we can accurately predict Hoosier students’ progress in school, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast how schools are performing compared to their peers around the state. It is imperative that ALL children have access to strong schools and an educational foundation in order to become productive members of our future workforce.

Federal Highway Funding Deadline Nears

36601064The current federal funding stream for highways runs its course July 31. The Senate is looking at a four-year option, while the House appears more in favor of extending it through this year and soon revisiting the matter.

Every member of Indiana’s delegation is keenly aware of the situation. While in D.C. this week, the Indiana Chamber continued to advocate for a long-term solution to financing the federal Highway Trust Fund. A patchwork of re-authorizations that are often only for a few months is no way to manage transportation assets, set national priorities or plan for future needs. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in his letter this week to state departments of transportation:

“Congress’s failure to pass a long-term bill is of great concern to all of us who are engaged in the work of building and maintaining our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Careening from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis undermines our system. We need Congress to break the cycle of short-term extensions; we need a long-term bill with significant growth.”

Steinberger Construction: Maximing Chamber Investment Through Employee Wellness

Blayne-HammelSteinberger Construction began building a wellness program nearly a decade ago, but its partnership with the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI) is adding to its success.

WCI members can take advantage of benefits such as coaching, discounts on educational training, networking opportunities and more.

In 2014, Logansport-based Steinberger Construction (which focuses mainly on steel and concrete work) earned Three-Star certification through the WCI’s AchieveWELL workplace analysis and recognition program. It has three levels: Three-Star, Four Star and Five Star.

“For us, that’s where we stepped up our wellness initiative and kind of refocused our goals,” explains safety and wellness director Blayne Hammel. “The main thing I feel they helped us do was utilize our data (related to health risk assessments and biometric screenings, for instance) more efficiently.”

He also values networking at Connect and Collaborate luncheons (the 2014 statewide tour, which stopped in eight cities, emphasized wellness), employee training and the opportunity to seek guidance from WCI executive director Chuck Gillespie.

“We started a monthly wellness newsletter, and he helped us develop our focus,” Hammel comments. “Typically, when people think about wellness, they think about nutrition and staying fit, but don’t really look at the financial wellness portion of it and stress management options. Utilizing that for some of our articles has been great.”

MDWise, Inc.: Maximizing Chamber Investment Through Employee Training

Lux_LindseyAre great leaders born or made? The answer is simple: Great leaders are “made” – and embracing learning opportunities is a key step.

The Indiana Chamber’s annual Human Resources Conference & Expo provides a variety of tools to boost leadership skills. Lindsey Lux, a regular attendee, enjoys the panel discussions, legal updates and collaboration with fellow HR professionals.

Lux is vice president of operations at MDwise — an Indiana Chamber member since 2007. Headquartered in Indianapolis, the Indiana nonprofit health insurance company is focused on giving uninsured and underserved Hoosiers the compassionate service and care they want and need.

“The legal presenters at the conference have given interesting presentations with real-world applicability,” she comments. “The conference is the best in Indiana to earn strategic recertification credits necessary to maintain my SPHR (senior professional in human resources).”

Lux participated in a focus group with other past attendees regarding ways to enhance the event.

“Most conferences ask you to complete a satisfaction survey once you are finished. This is the first time I’ve been asked to discuss (my input) face-to-face with attendees,” she emphasizes.

Reflecting on an especially memorable experience at the Human Resources Conference, Lux describes a session about leadership development.

“I walked away with a workbook full of information after having clearly identified my values, my company strategy, goals, etc.,” she recalls. “It’s nice to leave a session feeling empowered to improve in areas as an individual and as an organization.”

State Rolls Out New Employer Benefit Link Program

Are you a small employer that does not offer health insurance but would like to do so? Are you an employer that offers a health insurance plan to your employees but you may have employees who do not participate because they deem it unaffordable? If so, then you may find the state’s new Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) Employer Benefit Link to be a program of some interest to you.

HIP was expanded to provide health coverage to eligible Hoosiers that are at income levels up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which is $16,436 per year for an individual or $33,865 for a family of four. The HIP Link is a new state program that offers premium assistance for eligible (age 21) participants who choose to enroll in their employers’ sponsored health plan.

The Governor and his staff recently unveiled the program. It is their hope to enroll more Indiana residents in employer sponsored health plans.

The basics: HIP Link employers may be able to enroll more of their employees into their employer-sponsored plans. This may help some employers meet health plan participation requirements. Employers must agree to employ Indiana residents and contribute at least 50% to the premium cost of their employer -ponsored plan.

Plans must meet the federal Affordable Care Act minimum benefit and cost requirements. Who qualifies and for what: Large, small and self-insured businesses with a federal employee identification number (FEIN) that have at least one employee who is an Indiana resident may be eligible. The employer becomes a HIP Link employer by filling out an application online. Employers will need to provide a summary of benefits and coverage. Dental and vision benefits must be included if offered.

How it works: The employer deducts from the employee’s pay the cost or premium charged to the employee for the group health insurance according to the employer’s normal procedures. Each month the state will reimburse the employee directly for the amount of the deduction (minus any employee contribution to the POWER account). Each employee participating in the program will be given a HIP Link personal wellness and responsibility account (POWER) funded with $4,000. This account is used to pay premiums and other medical expenses charged to the employee up to $4,000 per year. The plan promotes personal ownership by requiring participants to contribute a portion of their income (about 2%) to their health coverage. Family members may be eligible under the plan.

Approval process: The application for HIP Link is available at HIP.IN.gov. Once the employer is approved, an employer ID will be assigned and employees may then enroll in the program. There are no costs associated with enrollment. On a monthly basis, the HIP Link employer will be prompted to confirm through the portal that employees enrolled in HIP Link are still employed and eligible for health insurance coverage. On an annual basis, employers will confirm benefits or premiums for the new benefit period.

More information is available at www.hip.in.gov.

VIDEO: A Look at the Latest Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar discusses the latest Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, which was just released this month.

The state’s highlights include improved reading and math test scores for fourth and eighth graders, progress toward a long-term water resources plan and promising research and development rankings. Struggles continue with postsecondary credentials and a dearth of entrepreneurial activity.

See the full report card.

Latest Indiana Vision 2025 Reveals State Strengths, Shortcomings

IV-2025-CoverWith a decade remaining in the Indiana Vision 2025 economicdevelopment action plan championed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and statewide partners, the state is showing some progress toward key goals but also revealing a long way to go on metrics vital to innovation and economic prosperity.

The latest results are included in the 2015 version of the Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card. The plan, introduced in 2012, includes 33 goals in four critical areas: Outstanding Talent, Attractive Business Climate, Superior Infrastructure and Dynamic and Creative Culture. This Report Card follows a 2013 effort that established benchmarks on 59 statistical metrics.

“Keeping score is essential to evaluating the state’s advancement,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “While there are some encouraging signs and more improvements than declines compared to other states, the overall theme is Indiana must do more – especially in the areas of talent and new business creation.”

Of the 59 metrics, Indiana improved its ranking (from the 2013 Report Card) compared to other states on 28; it declined in 19 rankings; and remained the same or there was no updated data available in 12. In terms of raw scores, Indiana improved in 33 metrics, declined in 17 and there was no movement or updates available for nine.
Positive Report Card developments include:

  • Improvements in math and reading NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test scores for both fourth and eighth graders, with corresponding fourth-grade ranking changes from 17th to fourth in math and 27th to 14th in reading
  • Poverty rate: Indiana’s state ranking, after dropping to 35th in the previous Report Card improved to 12th. This is partially attributable to the state’s heavy reliance on manufacturing and the re-emergence of that industry from the Great Recession
  • A state regulatory climate that continues to stand out, including a top ranking in the Regulatory Freedom Index from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
  • A drop in the adult smoking rate in 2013 to 21.9% (from 25.6% in 2011 and 27.4% in 2001). The ranking is 39th, but the nearly 4% reduction is significant
  • Research and development funding at both the university and business levels with rankings of 18th and 12th, respectively

“The addition of the I-READ third-grade reading test appears to be paying dividends,” comments Brinegar, referring to the improved reading scores. “Study after study has affirmed the state’s strong business climate, which will be even better with the elimination in 2016 of the business personal property tax for approximately 150,000 small businesses.”

Among the areas of concern:

  • Postsecondary attainment that continues to lag with ranks of 45th in associate degrees and 42nd in bachelor degrees
  • Funded pension liabilities that are below the U.S. average (72%) and decreased from 64% in the previous Report Card to 61% in this edition
  • Broadband connectivity, a particular challenge in rural areas, that slightly improved in the percent of households connected but still dropped in the state rankings from 35th to 40th
  • A lowly 47th-place ranking in the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. Despite an increasing emphasis in this area, there are simply not enough new businesses being created
  • A significant decline in venture capital invested, one of the factors in new business creation, from 2012 to 2014

“On education attainment, the goal is for 60% of residents with high-quality postsecondary credentials by 2025. Indiana’s 34.7% achievement as of 2013 shows how far the state has to go,” Brinegar shares. “Similarly, technology success stories are multiplying and business acceleration and innovation programs are expanding but Indiana, as a whole, remains far behind others in growing and maintaining a dynamic business culture.”

About Indiana Vision 2025

Mission: “Indiana will be a global leader in innovation and economic opportunity where enterprises and citizens prosper.”

Indiana Vision 2025 was developed by a statewide task force of community, business and education leaders. The plan was released in early 2012. The full Report Card, a summary of Indiana’s rankings and a one-page overview of progress on the 33 goals of Indiana Vision 2025 are available at www.indianachamber.com/2025. Statistics utilized are the most recent available from established, credible sources.

The 2015 Report Card and six regional forums (to discuss the results, obtain local analysis and share best practices in the Outstanding Talent area) are sponsored by Duke Energy Foundation, Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, Ivy Tech Community College, NIPSCO and St. Vincent Health.

Indiana Vision 2025 Regional Forums (regional partners)

  • June 22: Fort Wayne (Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana, Vince Buchanan)
  • June 23: Evansville (Evansville Regional Business Committee, Ed Hafer)
  • June 25: Indianapolis (Mike Wells, REI Real Estate Services)
  • June 29: Merrillville (Northwest Indiana Forum, Heather Ennis)
  • June 30: Elkhart (Elkhart, South Bend and Warsaw chambers of commerce; Kyle Hannon, Jeff Rea and Mark Dobson)
  • July 27: Sellersburg (One Southern Indiana, Wendy Dant Chesser)

Bison Financial Group: Maximizing Its Investment by Boosting Visibility

Vorbeck_DavidNumbers are the name of the game in the financial world. But that’s only part of the equation.

Just ask Dave Vorbeck, president and CEO of Bison Financial Group, which he founded in 1999. He regularly showcases the firm’s MENTOR product by advertising in the Chamber’s award-winning BizVoice® magazine. In addition, Bison has sponsored a variety of events, such as the Wellness Council of Indiana’s regional wellness symposiums, and has been an Indiana Chamber member since 2011.

“People who are on the distribution list of BizVoice (the audience includes 15,000 CEOs, presidents and other decision-makers) want to be on the distribution list of BizVoice and the editorial content is important to them. MENTOR is our business-to-business product and being able to zero-in on those decision-makers in terms of brand development is incredibly valuable to us.

“We don’t need to get in front of 15,000 people. We need to get in front of 15,000 of the right people. BizVoice (readers represent) 15,000 of the right people.”

Based in Lafayette, Bison also has offices in Mishawaka; Terre Haute; Valparaiso; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Melbourne, Florida. It employs 40 people firmwide and is affiliated with Wells Fargo Advisors.

“I’m looking at new MENTOR clients (and one is) a big coding company in Fort Wayne. The only way they’ve heard of us is through BizVoice because we don’t advertise in Fort Wayne,” Vorbeck stresses. “Advertising in BizVoice is an incredible value for us. For what we’re advertising, it absolutely is perfect.”