Indiana Chamber Unveils Our Top Six Legislative Priorities for 2016

statehouse picTransportation infrastructure funding, reverse credit transfer to the state’s accredited two-year colleges and expansion of the state’s civil rights law are among the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s top priorities for the 2016 session.

These objectives were announced at the organization’s annual Central Indiana Legislative Preview in Indianapolis today.

The Indiana Chamber proposes an array of strategies to establish a sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, highways and bridges. These include dedicating more of the state’s sales tax on fuel purchases to infrastructure, increasing and indexing fuel excise taxes and implementing fees on alternative fuel vehicles.

“Indiana benefited greatly from the Major Moves program that accelerated our timeline and funded $4 billion worth of projects over the last decade. But those dollars are spent or allocated. It’s time to move forward with the next generation of resources to drive our economy by moving people and products throughout our state and beyond,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“Legislative action is needed in the coming session to address glaring needs and begin implementing long-term strategies to allow our state to live up to its ‘Crossroads of America’ designation.”

Brinegar concludes that the good news is that legislative leaders, the Governor and others are on the same page about the need; the challenge will be how to get there.

Higher education is also a focal point for the Indiana Chamber. One specific proposal the organization will be pushing for is a method to allow for more students to turn their existing college credits into a two-year degree. This would be accomplished by allowing specific credits earned at state-supported colleges and universities to be transferrable to Indiana’s accredited two-year schools, such as Ivy Tech and Vincennes. Credit is already generally transferrable from the two-year schools to their four-year counterparts.

“This would give students more opportunity for post-secondary attainment and then obviously help with employment,” Brinegar offers. “Specifically, it would help fill the gap for those individuals who first went to a four-year school but for whatever reason couldn’t continue. This would be a viable path for them to turn their efforts into a two-year degree and become more attractive to employers.”

Earlier this month, the Indiana Chamber announced its support for expanding the state’s civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity, with Brinegar noting:

“The time has come for Indiana to expand protections against potential discrimination. This action will increase the state’s future business competitiveness in the recruitment, attraction and retention of talent, as well as enhance respect for all employers and employees. We encourage our state leaders to work together to take this next critical step.”

Another initiative the organization will again pursue is a work sharing program, which will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns and enable employees to keep their jobs but with reduced hours and salary (which is partially offset by unemployment insurance). This program has enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle the last few years, but has yet to cross the finish line.

“There is no negative impact on the state’s unemployment insurance fund. Instead of paying full benefits to a smaller group of recipients, a larger group of employees will receive limited benefits – but most importantly remain on the job,” Brinegar explains. “There is no reason not to enact a work share program to help meet future employee and employer needs. They deserve that option.”

The other two legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber are maintaining a fair and equitable system for the state’s commercial property assessment and appeal procedures (in the face of recent “big box” retail stores’ appeals and reaction to that); and expanding publicly-funded preschool from the pilot program to statewide so more children are prepared to enter kindergarten.

A complete rundown of the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 key legislative initiatives (top priorities and additional areas of focus) is available at

Also at the legislative preview event, four state legislators were honored as Indiana Chamber Small Business Champions “for their hard work and dedication to improving Indiana’s small business climate.” This award is based on voting and advocacy during the 2015 legislative session.

The 2015 Small Business Champions are: Sen. Rodric Bray from Martinsville, District #37; Sen. Carlin Yoder from Middlebury, District #12; Rep. David Ober from Albion, District #82; and Rep. John Price from Greenwood, District #47.

Recap of the Indiana Chamber’s Top 6 legislative priorities:

  • Support an array of strategies to establish a sustainable funding stream for the state’s roads, highways and bridges
  • Support specific credit transfer from Indiana’s four-year, state-supported institutions to the state’s accredited two-year colleges
  • Support expanding the state’s civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns
  • Support maintaining a fair and equitable system for the state’s commercial property assessment and appeal procedures
  • Support the development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives statewide

Internships Increasingly Important in Post-Graduation Job Search

bA new report from Grace College found that unemployment has fallen about 7% for 20- to 24-year-olds. There are many reasons for upcoming college graduates to be optimistic about their job searches, but there are also noteworthy trends that should keep expectations in check and even inspire extra effort. Internships and other work-and-learn opportunities continue to be a step toward work readiness and, in many cases, job offers.

The Class of 2015 has planned ahead for the future. According to Dan Kadlec of Time, 82% of current seniors considered the availability of jobs in their field before choosing a major – a 7% increase from 2014. The Accenture Strategy 2015 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study backs this up: 63% of 2015 grads were encouraged to pursue a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), compared to 52% of grads from 2013 and 2014. Jobs in STEM fields are often high-wage and high-demand, and STEM was the most popular major this year.

However, current job market realities are not all inviting for recent grads. Accenture found that 85% of the Class of 2015 expects to earn more than $25,000 per year out of the gate. But right now, 41% of the Classes of 2013 and 2014 earns $25,000 or less per year and nearly half of that group considers themselves underemployed.

Despite these trends, internships are one of the greatest reasons the Class of 2015 should feel confident as they begin their careers. Along with online and offline networking opportunities, internships can help graduates maximize their chances of landing a job. According to Accenture, 72% of current seniors participated in an internship during college. The reason for optimism? Nearly half of prior-year graduates found a job as a result of an internship, apprenticeship or co-op.

Internships have become less of a “bonus” on young professionals’ résumés and more of a necessity. Real-world work experience coupled with network building make experiential learning opportunities critical for students. That’s why it is so important for Indiana employers to offer structured, experiential opportunities and strong mentorship for tomorrow’s workforce.

Indiana INTERNnet exists to help increase the number and quality of internships throughout the state and connect employers with prospective interns. With all the statistics in mind, this work is key not only for each individual’s professional growth, but for strengthening Indiana’s future workforce, business climate and economy.

Check out this small sampling of stories about internships that led to full-time jobs on Indiana INTERNnet’s blog: Paige Prather; Lucas Hill; Chris Jones; Casey Spivey, and yours truly

Indiana INTERNnet is the catalyst for expanding the creation and use of experiential learning opportunities as a key strategy in retaining Indiana’s top talent. The online resource,, provides valuable information and tools to assist Indiana employers with their internship programs. Its searchable database links employers with thousands of individuals seeking internships. Register for your free account, post your internships and begin connecting with potential candidates today.

Student Scores: ISTEP and ‘National Report Card’

The Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met last month with the plan to set cut scores and finalize ISTEP grades from the 2014-2015 school year. As a reminder, setting cut scores is done by a panel of educators that determines the passing score for that year’s test. However, during that meeting, questions were raised regarding the differences between the online and paper-pencil versions of the exam. This was identified in a report submitted to the Indiana Department of Education in early October – yet that report was not provided to the test’s Technical Advisory Committee or the SBOE until right before the meeting. The SBOE then requested a comparison study done by its own test experts to determine any discrepancies. Sarah O’Brien, vice chair of the SBOE, had originally made this request back in July.

SBOE – after the comparison studies were in hand – set pass-fail benchmarks for the latest ISTEP scores. What’s anticipated is that a notable increase in students will see drops in their scores, with a portion falling below the pass line. While no one wants to see test scores go down, it is explainable as students and teachers were adjusting to the new, more rigorous academic standards and a new assessment that were adopted for the same school year. In other words, this drop is expected, and many other states have experienced similar decreases. In fact, Indiana’s scores were either on par or higher than other states that have recently adopted new standards and/or a new assessment. While the news of dropping ISTEP scores is disappointing, it is important to note that the changes to the standards will benefit students as they will be more prepared for college and career in the future. The Indiana Chamber appreciates all of the hard work of Indiana teachers and students.

Due to this somewhat turbulent transition year, Gov. Pence released a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and SBOE members recently stating that he is working with leadership in the Indiana General Assembly to have legislation drafted to ensure that the 2014-2015 test results would not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses this year. The Chamber has a longstanding policy to support accountability and transparency for students and teachers but understands that unforeseen circumstances with ISTEP delays and testing issues would allow the need for this pause.

Positive news:

The recently-released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores – aka a “National Report Card” – shows that Indiana is achieving more than other states in all four categories:

  • Fourth grade math: Indiana 248; national average 240
  • Eighth grade math: 287; 281
  • Fourth grade reading: 227; 221
  • Eighth grade reading: 268; 264

Indiana is actually widening its advantage over other states. We commend our teachers and school administrators for their important role in helping our students reach these higher levels of achievement.

While our ISTEP scores are lower as expected, these NAEP scores reinforce that our students are achieving at a higher overall level than many of their counterparts. We expect that to accelerate going forward with the enhanced college and career ready standards in place.

Teacher Shortage Concerns at Forefront of Interim Study Group

Portrait of students taking notes while their classmate is raising his hand

A popular phrase in Indiana these days is the term “teacher shortage.” So much so that the Indiana General Assembly leadership asked the Education Interim Study Committee to schedule an extra meeting on Oct.19 to discuss this issue.

This marathon committee hearing lasted close to nine hours and featured testimony from many people (both from Indiana and around the country). Data is often conflicting – while there may be fewer potential teachers applying to education schools, it seems to be that there are pockets of shortages (in STEM, special education and secondary schools). (In fact, a Michael Hicks/Ball State study released last Wednesday said there was actually a surplus of teachers, except for these specialty areas). Emphasis was also provided – with bipartisan support – on the importance of mentoring, as well as flexibility of teacher pay and grant incentive programs in shortage areas.

The study committee proposed 20 recommendations to be put into its final report of the year – of which 17 were agreed upon. But this does not mean that they might turn into actual legislation during the 2016 General Assembly session. Many of these recommendations dealt with further study, but the biggest recommendation called for new money to be used to increase salaries for teachers and other educators for the first 10 years of their career. However, the 2016 legislative session is not a budget session, which essentially handcuffs the ability to propose any new funding.

All in all, while we do not expect the 2016 legislative session to be dubbed another “education session,” we should anticipate some comprehensive bills when it comes to testing, accountability and teacher shortage solutions. The Indiana Chamber is immersed in these policy issues and is in constant contact with policymakers to ensure that we are part of those discussions.

Remarks on Indiana’s Scores on ‘National Report Card’ for Student Achievement

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar reacts to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scoring or “national report card” on student achievement:

“Hoosier students are outpacing the national average and, in fact, Indiana is widening its advantage over other states. This is welcome news and is an important metric. We commend our teachers and school administrators for their important role in helping our students reach these higher levels of achievement.

“Our new ISTEP scores are lower due to the implementation of more rigorous, but important, college and career readiness standards, which will better prepare students for post-secondary education and ultimately create a much stronger workforce.

“But in the big picture, these NAEP scores reinforce that our students are achieving at a higher overall level than many of their counterparts. We expect that to accelerate going forward with the enhanced college and career ready standards in place.”

In mathematics, Indiana fourth graders averaged a score of 248 with a national average of 240 points. Hoosier eight graders in mathematics averaged a score of 287 with a national average of 281 points. Similarly in reading, Indiana fourth graders averaged a score of 227, higher than a national average of 221 points and eighth grade students averaged a score of 268 with a national average of 264 points.

Pace Dairy of Indiana: Maximizing Its Chamber Membership Through Employee Training

Sarver_ShirleyShirley Sarver keeps a special reminder of her experience at the 2015 Indiana Safety and Health Conference & Expo with her every day.

“There was a saying that I absolutely loved,” comments Sarver, a production lead at Pace Dairy of Indiana in Crawfordsville (an Indiana Chamber member since 1998). “I don’t have Internet access at work, so I had my (IT) person send it to me (via) email so I could keep it with me.

“It says, ‘When people understand you, you get their attention. When people trust you, you earn their loyalty. When people know you really care, you catch their hearts.’ ”

One of the presenters shared the quote during a session on leadership.

“The class was very, very informative,” she asserts. “Since I’m a lead, I loved how he talked about being in the leadership role.”

Twenty years ago, a desire to help people attracted Sarver to Pace Dairy, a cheese plant operated by Kroger. It has two locations: Crawfordsville and Rochester, Minnesota. Each site has approximately 280 employees.

“I go out on calls. If they’re (workers) having problems on a line, I help troubleshoot,” she explains. “If I can fix it, I fix it. If I can’t, I get ahold of maintenance and help out where needed.”

Sarver, who has attended several of the Chamber’s annual safety conferences, values gaining knowledge that she can apply directly to her job.

“I think it’s very beneficial for the team because it gives us new ideas on what we can bring back here to the plant,” she reflects. “I would highly recommend the expo. You get to be one-on-one (learning about different products and services) instead of looking in a book.”

Charter Schools Being Shortchanged in Federal Poverty Aid

19293579Despite no change in student population, many charter schools across the state are experiencing a sharp decline of federal Title 1 funding, with little to no explanation from the DOE. Title I funding assists poverty-stricken students meet educational goals.

For example, Christel House Academy experienced a 20% drop in funding this year, to the tune of $121,743. Meanwhile, IPS (which has experienced student numbers going down) received an 8% increase, close to a $1.5 million bump. Similarly, Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school where 94% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, took a budget hit of $36,000 this year.

Federal rules state that schools cannot have more than a 15% drop in Title 1 funding in any one year. However, all of the schools that received more than a 15% decrease were charter schools.

The DOE response was that the charter schools must have made a mistake, but it is still gathering information. The federal government has since stepped in and is requiring DOE to provide information on calculations of Title 1 funding for the past few years. This story is far from over.

There was a significant decrease in Title 1 funding across the board in Indiana, but it is extremely important that this reduction is allocated equitably among the schools. These charter schools are public schools and provide education and resources to students of poverty means across Indiana. It is extremely important that this issue be resolved accurately and swiftly to provide Hoosier students with the education they deserve.

The Indiana School Matters blog also took a further look at why Title 1 funds were cut for our charter schools.

Chamber President Brinegar Comments on ISTEP Scores

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on the state’s ISTEP scores:

The decline in English and math test scores is expected as a result of the significant enhancements to the college and career ready standards. In fact, Indiana’s scores were either on par or higher than other states which have recently gone through this process of moving to more rigorous tests.

“The good news is these needed changes ultimately will better prepare Indiana students for the workforce and sets a baseline so educators can pinpoint where improvements need to be made.

“We applaud both students and teachers for their strong efforts, and look forward to seeing the growth in student learning and college and career readiness in the coming years.

Attorney General Rules on A-F Grades for 2015

In July, we discussed Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education’s (DOE) position on suspending A-F grades for 2014-2015, or potentially utilizing a “hold harmless” proposal that would assign the better A-F grade between the 2013-2014 year and the 2014-2015 year due to the potential for lower scores as a result of the newly enacted educational standards. State Board of Education members, however, had significant concerns over Ritz’s proposal and made a recommendation that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office review the potential options and give a legal opinion as to which option, if any, would be best for Indiana.

In early September, Zoeller’s office released an informal opinion that advised that the “hold harmless” option would not be supported by current statute and rules. In order for that provision to be legally sound, the General Assembly would have to change the law themselves.

As you may recall, this is not Ritz’s first time trying to pause accountability for students and schools. The Indianapolis Star recently quoted her stating, “Tests never teach you anything.” The Indiana Chamber wholeheartedly disagrees with her statement and finds that testing and accountability are critical for students and schools. Testing is imperative to understanding what a student knows and issues with which they may still struggle. Having strong, accurate and transparent accountability measures means that we can accurately predict Hoosier student progress, assist teachers in where students are struggling, as well as compare and contrast how schools are performing to their peers around the state.