Recapping the legislative session – sometimes inaction is OK

When it comes to education, the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly may be best remembered for the bills that died, not for the ones that passed.

Lawmakers did accomplish one notable deed, boosting state funding for full-day kindergarten to where parents will no longer have to pay for the privilege. To which we say: It’s about time.

As for what lawmakers didn’t do, the following measures were apparently given serious consideration but died a merciful death:

— Allowing school boards to mandate the teaching of “creation science”
— Prescribing standards for the singing of the National Anthem at school events
— Barring schools from starting fall classes before Labor Day
— Ordering a return to a single-class high school basketball tournament
— Requiring schools to teach cursive writing as part of the curriculum

You have to think that some legislators must have too much time on their hands to come up with such ideas.

Full-day kindergarten was part of House Enrolled Act 1376, which passed right before lawmakers adjourned early Saturday morning. It increased the state grant for full-day kindergarten to $2,400 per child – up from $1,190.60. Schools should no longer have to charge full-day kindergarten fees, which in some districts have exceeded $1,000. In fact, the bill prohibits such fees starting this fall.

Gov. Mitch Daniels identified full-day kindergarten as a priority six years ago, but it got sidetracked by economic difficulties and, some would argue, other priorities. Continue reading

Note to Indiana lawmakers: stop monkeying around with ‘creation science’

It’s ironic that just as the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation was praising Indiana for having some of the best science education standards in the country, the Indiana Senate was debating legislation to authorize the teaching of “creation science.”

Fortunately, an amendment offered by Bloomington Democrat Vi Simpson made the legislation relatively harmless, at least for now. But who knows what may happen when it moves to the House for further consideration?

As introduced by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, Senate Bill 89 would have let school boards mandate the teaching of “various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science,” which claims to provide scientific support for the creation story in the book of Genesis.

According to Suzanne Eckes, an education law expert at the Indiana University School of Education, that would be an invitation to a lawsuit, and one the school would probably lose.

“The law is fairly settled in this area,” she said, pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled that teaching creationism in public schools violates the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion. The decisions were Epperson v. Arkansas in 1968 and Edwards v. Aguillard (from Louisiana) in 1987.

Kruse told Scott Elliott of the Indianapolis Star that the Supreme Court has changed since 1987 and it could rule differently today. Maybe, but as recently as 2005, federal courts ruled against teaching creationism in Selman v. Cobb (from Georgia) and Kitzmiller v. Dover (Pennsylvania).

And any school district that wants to put the courts to the test had better have deep pockets. Continue reading