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Pfaff’s priorities in 2019: common sense improvements to education

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INDIANAPOLIS – In her first session as a member of the Indiana General Assembly, State Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) said she will focus on common sense improvements to public education, based on her experiences as a classroom teacher.

Those improvements will include expansion of both pre-K and kindergarten programs across Indiana, as well as a needed pause in reliance upon testing as a tool to grade progress of students and schools.

Pfaff issued the following statement on her agenda for 2019:

“When I received my committee assignments for the 2019 and 2020 sessions, I was pleased to have been chosen by leadership to serve on the House Education Committee. I look forward to bringing the experiences I have gained over more than 25 years in the classroom toward enacting common sense changes to our educational system.

“It has been my belief that our public school system has taken a back seat in recent years to the state’s overeager embrace of the education-for-profit industry by continually upgrading support for vouchers and private schools, often at the expense of public schools. While the amount of funding for education might have been increased, the piece of that pie that goes to public education has remained static as more and more money goes to continued experimentation with charters and vouchers.

“I have seen how these philosophies have affected the ability of teachers to perform a job they love. It’s why so many people are leaving the profession or choosing to go elsewhere to ply their trade. Not only is teacher pay miserable, but the reforms sought by legislators often focus on such things as tax credits, making it easier for teachers to purchase supplies for their students. That’s something teachers shouldn’t have to be doing in the first place. Those things should be purchased by school corporations, except the state support isn’t there.

“So yes, I will be supporting initiatives to increase teacher pay now, not study it for future consideration. The need is now.

“But there are other things I want to see happen this session.

“I am continually surprised at the fact that while schools are required to provide kindergarten for children in Indiana, the mandatory age to attend school in Indiana is 7 years old. The best solution to this problem is lowering the compulsory school age for children to 5 years of age.

“And if we are going to make that commitment toward early schooling, then it’s high time that we drastically expand our state’s pre-K program to all 92 counties in Indiana, rather than the incremental pilot program that’s in place now. In the 20 counties that have pre-K as a pilot program, the tangible benefits already have been seen. A true commitment to all children should provide for children throughout the state, not just those 20 counties.

“Finally, while it is good to see the demise of the dreaded ISTEP program on the horizon, it disturbs me to see that the test plays a role in determining the grade a school receives in determining its academic success. That means that students are being forced to take a test that means nothing, except to determine questionable measure of success that might end up penalizing a school and those same students.

“I would prefer to get rid of that blasted test – in all of its versions,” Pfaff said. “But I will pursue a proposal to make sure that the ISTEP test is not a part of a school’s accountability grade. Let us remove this infernal thing, so it will not plague us anymore.”

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