Information on Hoosier schools less accessible

South Bend Tribune

During the final hours of the recently concluded legislative session, Indiana lawmakers stealthily inserted an amendment into an education bill that makes information about Hoosier public schools less accessible.

In other words, legislators were less than transparent about an issue involving transparency.

The amendment to House Bill 1003 makes two changes to public notice requirements for Indiana school districts. The first allows districts to publish a shortened version of the annual school performance reports in the local newspaper and refer to the full report online. The second allows the same for the financial reports districts are required to publish every August.

The second change had not been discussed at all in a public setting — neither considered in committee nor debated on the floor — before being added to the final version of HB 1003.

The debate over publication of school reports isn’t a new one. In recent years, lawmakers have introduced measures to move these reports from newspapers to online. Lawmakers who favor this change point to falling print circulation among newspapers and say there are other ways to present such information, that notices can be posted other places, and that parents with internet access could still monitor their children’s schools.

As we’ve editorialized in the past, such changes fly in the face of this basic truth: Public notices belong where the public will see them. According to a 2017 poll by American Opinion Research, six out of 10 adult Hoosiers say they have read public notices in the newspaper, and there would be a 60 percent decline in their readership of public notices if they are posted only on government websites.

And the school performance report is among the more highly read public notices published in Indiana newspapers. Public viewing of school performance reports on the DOE website is minimal compared to the hundreds of thousands of Hoosier adults who read a newspaper at least once a week. As the Hoosier State Press Association points out, newspapers with print and online readership still reach far more readers than low-traffic state websites.

The change that lawmakers made will require Hoosiers to extend extra effort and diligence to track down the information — information about how the number of students in the district compares to the number of teachers, about how taxpayer money is being spent, for example.

Legislators should be making it easier, not more complicated, for Indiana residents to access these public notices. Instead, with the amendments added to HB 1003, they went against the self-interests of Hoosiers and their ability to stay informed.

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