Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

For ISTEP Replacement, Lawmakers Skeptical Of Indiana-Specific Test

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the design or purchase of the new exam.

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the design or purchase of the new exam. (David Hartman / Flickr)

Legislation that would replace the ISTEP exam with a new assessment in Spring 2019 got its first debate Tuesday at the Statehouse but it’s unclear what the new exam will be.

House Bill 1003 makes a lot of requirements for Indiana’s next assessment for students in 3-8 grades and 10th grade.

The test needs to be reliable, graded in part by Indiana teachers, and scores returned quickly. Lawmakers also want it to be inexpensive — or at least less than state’s current two-year $38 million ISTEP contract.

But during a hearing Tuesday Indianapolis Democrat Rep. Ed Delaney said the legislation is too focused on creating a test totally unique to Indiana.

He mocked other lawmakers for their fear of Common Core — the academic standards that Indiana adopted in 2010 and then voided in 2014, as ordered by former Gov. Mike Pence, as part of a nation-wide conservative backlash. A hastily created set of unique Indiana standards were written to replace it.

That change has made it more difficult for Indiana to use a so-called “off-the-shelf” exam that would be far less expensive than the current test administered by British-owned Pearson.

“I think we are wasting our time and money and our kids come out confused and not comparable to kids in other states,” Delaney said. “I do not see the value in that.”

Testing expert Ed Roeber testified Tuesday that Indiana does need somewhat of a specially designed exam since the academic standards are unlike other states. He estimated an “off-the-shelf” end-of-year assessment such as PARCC would only cover up to 65 percent of Indiana’s math and English standards.

Though last fall, another expert said PARCC could be used in Indiana.

Roeber, also on Tuesday, said the bill’s proposal for test results to be returned by July 1 seemed unlikely if it is administered at the end of the school year.

During the Tuesday hearing many educators, workforce development representatives and other education officials voiced their support of the legislation’s main intent — to end replace ISTEP starting in the 2018-19 school year.

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the design or purchase of the new exam.

Many of the ideas about designing ILEARN were recommended by a panel convened by lawmakers to offer suggestion.

Legislation author Bob Bhening, R-Indianapolis, said multiple amendments would be filed for Thursday’s House Education Committee hearing. A vote could be taken then.

House Passes Pre-K Bill That Links To Private Voucher Expansion

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties for low-income families. It provides free preschool at state-approved private homes, schools or other daycare options.

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties for low-income families. It provides free preschool at state-approved private homes, schools or other daycare options.” credit=”Sonia Hooda / Flickr

The Indiana House of Representatives passed their version of preschool expansion Tuesday, but not without concerns from both parties.

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties for low-income families. It provides free preschool at state-approved private homes, schools or other daycare options.

Republicans and Democrats agree the program should be expanded in some way. How much funding would be allocated has yet to be worked out by the House budget makers.

But Hartford City Republican Rep. Kevin Mahan and other lawmakers said a provision in the bill that would include those same families in the state’s private school voucher program should become separate legislation.

We covered those concerns here.

Speaking on the House floor, Mahan said he voted for the law that created Indiana’s Choice Scholarship program but understands that some in his community and across the state don’t support it.

“Pre-K is a big issue. Vouchers is a big issue,” he said, adding that he would support the bill’s passage out of the house. “This is an issue that should have been stranded alone for what they represent.”

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, also voted yes but said she would vote against the bill if it it returns from the Senate without the voucher link removed.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, asked his colleagues to vote down the bill and instead support Senate Bill 276 to expand preschool because it does not include voucher ties.

The House bill passed 61-34. The proposal now heads to the Senate.

Bill To Appoint, Not Elect, Top Education Official Moves Forward

The Indiana Statehouse. (Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

A bill that would remove Indiana’s top education official as an elected position is progressing through the Statehouse. The bill, authored by Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) would allow the governor to appoint the superintendent of public instruction starting in 2021.

It passed out of committee Monday on a 5-to-3 vote.

“Ultimately it’s the governor that’s responsible for education,” Buck says. “This just puts all of that responsibility on him or her.”

Indiana is one of 13 states to elect its top education official. Proponents say this bill could remove many of the politics that have long plagued Indiana education.

During former-Gov. Mike Pence’s term, the republican governor’s office and the department of education were often at a head. Then-superintendent Glenda Ritz was the only democrat in a statewide elected position.

The political disagreements between the two offices boiled over into Pence restructuring the state board of education to contain more political appointments. The state board of education creates education policy that the department of education is in charge of implementing.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce testified to the committee in support of the bill. They say it would allow the governor and the department of education to stay on the same page.

And that, to others, keeps things political.

“If one party controls every decision, that’s not taking the politics out,” says John O’Neill, with the Indiana State Teachers Association.

O’Neill says it’s bad public policy to take a decision out of hand of voters and give more power to the governor.

“I don’t think ramming through policies just because everyone’s agreeing is good for the state,” O’Neil says.

This Week At The Statehouse: Education Budget And U.S. History

Caleb Cureton, 14, and his mom, Shana Cureton-McMurray, testified before the Senate education committee this week, in favor of a bill that would increase funding for after school programs. Cureton says his experience at the Boys and Girls Club in Columbus broke him out of his shell and exposes him to many parts of his community. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Caleb Cureton, 14, and his mom, Shana Cureton-McMurray, testified before the Senate education committee this week in favor of a bill that would increase funding for after school programs. Cureton says his experience at the Boys and Girls Club in Columbus broke him out of his shell and exposes him to many parts of his community. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/ Indiana Public Broadcasting)

This week at the Statehouse we saw our first major budget asks for education funding and a slew of bills moving through the process.

Here are the highlights.

Superintendent McCormick Makes Budget Request

Superintendent Jennifer McCormick requested a two year budget for the Department of Education, and it asked for a minimal budget increase for the Department of Education in 2017-19. It mirrors Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to flatline all but one fund, tuition support. Read more about her budget request.

Virtual Schools Focus in Charter School Accountability Bill

House Bill 1382 offers numerous tweaks and considerable changes for public charter schools and their authorizers.

“It’s trying to increase some of the rigor for our authorizers of our charter schools,” says author, Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis).

The bill is headed to the House floor, though some battles remain.

Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) attempted numerous amendments to specify who can be on the board of a charter school and where meetings can be held. All amendments were shot down.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be zeroing in on some of specific provisions. Here are a few:

  • The legislation would change the definition of virtual school to a program that has more than 75 percent of its instruction provided online.
  • Schools like Hoosier Virtual Academy would be required to create a “student engagement policy” that would set standards to determine how much time a student spends learning.
  • At a traditional school, Behning said, physical attendance in the classroom is how engagement is recorded.
  • Another portion requires the State Board of Education to first give an authorizer the OK to renew a charter for a failing school. Current law requires an authorizer to seek approval from the State Board after granting such a renewal.

Charter schools have grown from 11 in 2002 to around 90 today. There are eight charter school authorizers.

Democrats Balk At Voucher Provision In Pre-K Bill

Expanding state-funded preschool is one topic most Indiana lawmakers and Gov. Eric Holcomb agree on. However, two things remain to be settled in House and Senate legislation: how much of an expansion and at what cost?

This week, some Democrats are saying they will not support HB 1004 because it contains a provision that includes private school vouchers. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the chairman of the House Education Committee, wants state-funded On My Way Pre-K program to become a new “pathway” for families to be approved for the Choice Scholarship program.

A string of Democrat amendments Tuesday night failed to strip out the voucher language and the bill passed committee 9-4 with only Republican support. Expect more debate on the House floor.

Read more about this issue from earlier reporting this week.

Out Of The Senate: U.S. History Class

SB 117, a bill about U.S. history courses passed out of the Senate. It is now waiting until bills switch to the House, where that chamber will put it through its own vetting process. The bill lays out required components of every U.S. History course taught at Indiana high schools:

  • All history classes must include lessons on the Holocaust
  • Lessons on the role of state and federal governments, “including the role of separation of powers,” the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.
  • Every student must take the U.S. Civics Test that immigrants take. Schools can decide whether to make the outcome of the test count toward grades, but they must at least take it.

Senate Ed Committee: After School Programs and School Calendars

This week in the Senate’s education committee, two bills were presented for the first time, both warranting a lengthy discussion.

First, SB 88 would require all schools, public and private, to wait until Sept. 1 to begin the school year. Many school districts around the state use a balanced calendar, which means the breaks are spread throughout the year– longer Spring Break, Winter break and Fall break instead of a huge chunk off in the summer.

The author, Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), says she wrote the bill after speaking with constituents. She says a shorter summer break doesn’t give teenagers enough time to get a summer job or employers to find high school labor. She also says parents have trouble finding childcare for long breaks, throughout the year, instead of one childcare provider in the summer.

Business leaders, such as the CEO of Holiday World and many lobbyists for hotels and restaurants testified in favor of the bill. They say, when summer is shorter, people take fewer trips and their businesses suffer.

But senators on both sides of the aisle pushed against the idea of all school districts starting at the same time. They think that should be a local decision.

For example, Speedway Schools may want to wrap up for the year before the Indy 500, which takes place in their area. And many school districts near a college or university align with those calendars.

This idea has been proposed before and not put into law.

Funding After School Programs

Since it’s a budget session, many bills address money, and this week the Senate had its first hearing on one that would give grants to after school programs. These grants would be given to help programs that serve students in grades 5-8 expand or improve quality.

There is no set amount of money being requested in the bill, but it has bipartisan support in the Senate.

Shana Cureton-McMurray and her 14-year-old son, Caleb Cureton, each testified before the committee about the importance of having high quality after school programs in every community.

When Cureton-McMurray moved to Columbus after leaving a domestic violence situation, she sent Caleb to the Boys & Girls Club every day after school and every day in the summer, because she knew it was a safe place for her son to spend time while she attended nursing school.

Caleb says his experience at that program helped him build his social skills in a less structured environment than school, and Cureton-McMurray says she hopes all tweens have access to this experience.

“If kids have this opportunity, especially in those critical ages, in the fifth through the eighth grades, it has the ability to change their lives and change the type of people they are,” she says.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), says, if the rest of the General Assembly does agree to this funding, it will likely start off as a small amount.

Indiana University To Still Accept Students From Banned Countries

A sign at Indiana University's info session for students, faculty and staff affected by the executive order on immigration. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A sign at Indiana University\’s info session for students, faculty and staff affected by the executive order on immigration. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Officials with the Indiana University system say President Donald Trump’s immigration and travel executive order won’t change the university’s policies.

The IU system’s eight campuses will continue to accept qualified international students from the seven countries where travel is currently suspended.

“The order itself is not going to keep us from welcoming applications from those countries,” says Chris Viers, associate vice president for international services at IU. “We will continue to review and process those applications and make admissions decisions.”

Viers says about 160 applicants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen have applied to IU campuses across the state.

“The bigger question, obviously, is whether those students will have any interest in coming to the U.S. when, clearly, they’re not feeling very welcome by our government right now,” Viers says.

The university has warned current students, faculty and staff from the affected countries not to leave the U.S. Under the executive order, they may not be let back in.

McCormick’s Education Budget Request Mirrors Holcomb Plan

Jennifer McCormick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, center, discusses the Indiana Department of Eduction's budget request at the Hose Ways and Means Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (photo credit: Indiana General Assembly)

Jennifer McCormick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, center, discusses the Indiana Department of Eduction\’s budget request at the Hose Ways and Means Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (photo credit: Indiana General Assembly)

The Indiana Department of Education presented its two-year budget proposal to lawmakers Thursday.

For the most part, State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick’s first request in the job mirrored Gov. Eric Holcomb’s conservative K-12 funding plan.

They both are asking lawmakers for a $280 million increase in basic school funding for 2017-18 and 2018-19 budget. That amounts to a one percent increase in the budget’s first year and a two percent increase in the second year.

McCormick did make a pitch for squeezing additional dollars into a few programs if financial “wiggle room” can be found later in the legislative session. More funding is needed in per student tuition support and the AP testing program is nearing a funding shortfall, she said.

McCormick did not ask for a specific amount for those areas during the hour long House Ways and Means Committee hearing.

“If we can get that up at all I know the field would appreciate it,” she said of funding levels beyond Holcomb’s recommendation in those areas.  “But I am very cognizant there is one pot of money.”

Funding for K-12 makes up nearly half of the state’s general fund budget and will likely face considerable scrutiny as lawmakers weigh the cost of continuing the ISTEP assessment for two more years with requests to bolster other education related areas. Continue Reading

Voucher Feud Is Focus Of House Pre-K Bill

House Education Chair Robert Behning is one of a number of Indiana legislators with ties to The American Legislative Exchange Council

House Education Chair Robert Behning is one of a number of Indiana legislators with ties to The American Legislative Exchange Council (photo credit: State Of Indiana)

Proposed legislation to expand the state’s publicly funded preschool program is tangled up in the ongoing feud over private school vouchers.

House Bill 1004 would expand the state’s preschool pilot program from five counties to 10 counties. It would also lower the financial threshold to help more poor families of four-year old children attend a state qualified preschool for free.

But some supporters who want to see the On My Way Pre-K program grow, are calling foul at a piece of the legislation that’s tied to the Choice Scholarship program. If approved, the bill would create a new pathway for how families become eligible for a publicly funded voucher to attend a private or religious school in kindergarten and beyond.

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee 9-to-4 along party lines with Democrats vowing to fight the voucher portion on the House floor.

During Tuesday’s committee hearing various education groups, lawmakers and parents argued over whether the bill would expand the use of private school vouchers. Indiana currently has more than 32,000 students using vouchers.

Yet whether the bill would expand use or just ease access depends on who you ask. Continue Reading

Across Indiana, University Faculty And Staff Reel From Trump’s Immigration Order

Babak Seradjeh is an associate professor of physics at Indiana University. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/IPB News)

Babak Seradjeh is an associate professor of physics at Indiana University. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

For Babak Seradjeh, it’s routine by now — as a celebrated physicist at Indiana University, he travels abroad three or four times a year for work. Last Saturday, the associate professor, with dual Iranian-Canadian citizenship, was heading to Israel.

“I left my house at 8:30, I took a shuttle to the airport,” Seradjeh says.

But as Seradjeh departed, little did he know he’d be one of the thousands worldwide affected by a new travel ban, implemented by President Donald Trump. The night prior, Trump signed an executive order that blocked citizens of seven countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“I thought this is not going to apply to me,” Seradjeh says. “I can still take my trip. And that’s why I started my trip.”

But it did apply to him. And soon Seradjeh became one of about 100 Indiana University faculty and staff affected by the order banning travel into the United States.

Seradjeh, a legal permanent U.S. resident with Iranian citizenship, was at the airport, heading out of the country.

“I checked with the airline representatives there and they said they had some memo that permanent residents were not affected so I checked in,” Seradjeh says.

The order also suspended all refugee admissions for 90 days and indefinitely barred Syrian refugees.

But when the connection landed in Newark, Seradjeh checked the news. He saw reports that dual-nationals – from the seven countries – could also be barred from returning to the U.S. People just like Seradjeh.

“So basically, everything that I thought would protect my return home was gone at that point,” Seradjeh says.

With no guarantee of return, he turned around, put the research on hold, and went home to his family and the associate professor job he’s held for six years.

“It felt like the ground was shifting under my feet, just being in a mudslide or something like that,” Seradjeh says. “This happened like overnight almost, with such sweeping effect. Whenever I’m going to take another trip I would be concerned if that can happen again.”

He’s not alone. Faculty and staff across the Indiana University system have cancelled professional and personal travel.

Chris Viers is with Indiana University international services. He says his phone has been ringing off the hook with students, faculty and staff looking for answers.

“It, uh, was non-stop… but our commitment here at IU is to do absolutely everything that we can to proactively communicate what’s happening,” Viers says.

For both professors in and out of the country.

“An individual that I just spoke with recently is outside of the U.S. He has a German passport, but is originally from Iran, and he’s wondering if he will be impacted by the ban and it’s just not quite clear yet,” Viers says.

While people wait for clarification, the university is offering services to help affected faculty, staff and students deal with stress and anxiety – including information sessions on all IU campuses.

Across the university about 150 students, about 100 faculty and staff and 160 prospective students are impacted. He says they’re not a threat to national security.

“Educational exchanges are one of our country’s most successful foreign policy tools,” Viers says.

He says they combat stereotypes, both at home and aboard. But for now he’s asking people from those seven countries to stay put.

Just because of the uncertainty as to whether or not they will be able to return.

Even as the presidents of universities including IU, Purdue and Notre Dame are condemning the order, faculty like Seradjeh are playing it safe.

In his office, traces of chalk dust linger on a brown shirt. Seradjeh’s just finished teaching for the day. He clicks through photos of a past trip.

Seradjeh pulls up a photo of a white board, covered in math equations.

“This is a board with our work on it and this turned into a paper,” Seradjeh says. “This is in my office there in Ben-Gurion University.”

And seeing the photos leaves Seradjeh with a bittersweet feeling.

“It feels like I want to be there,” Serdjeh says.

He’s waiting to see what comes next.

Indiana Universities Denounce Trump’s Immigration Order, Urge Students Not To Travel

Indiana University. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana University. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)” credit=”

An executive order issued by President Donald Trump on Friday halts entry to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and has left Indiana colleges and universities scrambling to adjust.

“The sweeping, indiscriminate and abrupt character of President Trump’s recent Executive Order halts the work of valued students and colleagues,” said John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, in a statement. “We respectfully urge the president to rescind this order.”

Jenkins is the head of one of a many of colleges and universities across the Hoosier state who have decried the executive order.

The order freezes entry to the U.S. for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days. It also indefinitely freezes entry into the U.S. for Syrian refugees.

International students and faculty across the state have reported changing or cancelling travel plans, for fear of not being able to return to the country.

Institutions of higher education are urging them do as such. Institutions including Notre Dame, the Indiana University system, Purdue University and Earlham College have urged students from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to cancel travel plans outside of the U.S.

“The President’s order related to immigration is a bad idea, poorly implemented, and I hope that he will promptly revoke and rethink it,” said Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, in a statement. “If the idea is to strengthen the protection of Americans against terrorism, there are many far better ways to achieve it.”

Around 100 of Purdue’s 40,000 students are from the countries named in this week’s executive order from the White House and hold non-immigrant visas. Another 10 faculty are citizens of those countries.

Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University, also denounced the order. In a statement, he urged affected students at 10 IU campuses to cancel travel plans.

“We urge the administration to end this executive order, as quickly as possible,” McRobbie said. “At the same time, we remain committed to doing all that we can within the bounds of the law to vigorously protect and support IU students, faculty and staff.”

McRobbie says IU recognizes the “critical importance” of a strong and effective visa process to protecting our national security and will support collaborative efforts to ensure the process “prevents entry from anyone who wishes to harm Americans.”

Jen Pearl, in Bloomington, organized a campaign to sign postcards and banners, telling Muslim and international university students that they are welcome.

“I feel really good about it,” Pearl said. “People had messages of support for them and we just hope this is momentum to move forward here.”

The universities plan to hold information sessions for affected students this week.

Statehouse Update: Pre-K, Background Checks, Funding Get Hearings

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

More than half of Indiana’s state budget funds education – from preschool to higher education, from transportation to salaries.

As the 2017 legislative session gets underway, there’s a lot at stake.

We’re there, taking it all in, as it all unfolds. Here’s what you need to know:

Pre-K Expansion Had Its First Hearing

SB 276: Pre-K Expansion – This is the Senate’s version of expanding the current pre-K pilot program, On My Way Pre-K. There is a similar bill in the House. This would increase the number of counties receiving scholarships, from five to 10. It would allocate $20 million to the program.

Gov. Eric Holcomb asked for a specific expert witness to testify to the committee. The governor has been an outspoken proponent for expanding state-funded pre-K.

Public testimony on just this bill lasted almost two hours during its first hearing Wednesday. Parents, pre-K advocates and stakeholders testified in favor of expanding the program.

Additional pre-K funding is likely to get traction this session, as lawmakers decide what it should look like.

Bill Aims To Give Districts ‘Freedom’ To Allocate More Money For Teachers 

HB 1009: School Financial Management – This bill would collapse various funds schools are required to use when paying for certain types of expenses and just have two: educational and operations.

Essentially, the bill would simplify school funding by elimination some of the state funding streams – these earmark funds for things like facilities and bus replacement. It would collapse them into two accounts: instruction expenses – like teacher pay and supplies – and operations.

The state budget agency’s report on the legislation says, the education fund would “be used as the exclusive fund to pay expenses allocated to student instruction and learning.”

The new operations fund would combine a number of funds: capital projects, transportation, school bus replacement, public playground and an art association or a historical society fund.

New History Class Requirements Advanced In Legislature

SB 29: Indiana History Class  This bill would require high schools to offer Indiana studies as an elective, semester-long course every year. It passed out of the Senate this week.

Bill Requiring More Teacher Background Checks Passed House Committee

HB 1079: Teacher Background Checks Every Five Years – All Indiana teachers would have to undergo a criminal background check every five years under a legislative proposal gaining momentum at the Statehouse.

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee unanimously approved HB 1079.

Bill To Change Superintendent Contracts Sent Back For Revision

SB 182: Superintendent Contracts – Sets provisions for a superintendent’s contract. Those include making the contract for at least a year, but not longer than three.

Some people testified against mandating provisions in a contract, saying that takes away local control. The bill will come back before the committee next week, and its author, Sen. Erin Houchin, says she will have amendments.

Extended Care For Preschoolers

HB 1136: Extended School Care For 4- And 5-Year-Olds – A bill that would extend before- and after-school care for 4- and 5-year olds passed unanimously out of House Education and now heads to the full House. HB 1136 focuses on so-called “latch key” programs at schools that also offer preschool.

Legislative author Rep. David Frizzell (R-Indianapolis), expected easy passage, but some did question if schools should be required to offer additional care for the youngest students.

An amendment now let’s schools decide if they will offer the federally funded program for preschoolers.

Help us help you! We want to know what you want covered. Have a question or story idea? A specific policy that deserves more explanation? Reach out! Leave a comment or reach reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen at pbalonon@indiana.edu and reporter Claire McInerny at clmciner@indiana.edu

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