Hoosiers support the right to know what government at all levels is up to, and they believe public notices in community newspapers are a trusted source of that transparency.
A 2017 survey by the Princeton, New Jersey-based American Opinion Research asked state residents their thoughts on the importance of public notice advertisements in local newspapers. The study was commissioned by the Hoosier State Press Association’s board of directors and surveyed 1,000 Indiana residents.
The survey found 63% of respondents supported publication of public notices as a way to inform residents of government actions. Another 60% said they had read or seen public notice advertising in a newspaper.
You’ve likely read the Annual Performance Report of your child’s or grandchildren’s school that Indiana newspapers publish every year between March 15 and March 31. These reports from the state Department of Education assemble the most recent data available on student test scores, graduation rates, school safety, teacher salaries and school grades.
If state Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen, as well as school business administrators, urban school districts, school superintendents and the DOE get their way, such information would be replaced with a summary and a link to a state-run website for more information about your local schools.
That summary, amended into Rep. Jordan’s House Bill 1003, gives no guidance on what school districts must include. HB 1003 would allow each district to decide what is important and what isn’t.
“The summary might be a simple ‘We did better this year than last and here’s the website where you can see the full report,’” said HSPA Executive Director Stephen Key. “Hoosiers would get no context – Sure, the report was an improvement, but an improvement over what – a terrible report the previous year with a minor improvement, maybe?”
Last year’s Annual Performance Reports revealed the percentages of high school students pursuing academic honors diplomas. They showed the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. They gave the number of students enrolled in career and technical programs; the ratio of pupil enrollment to certified teachers; the number of students expelled or suspended for drugs, weapons or alcohol, as well as the frequency of bullying incidents.
The goal of presenting this information in a single, easily found report is to encourage students, parents and concerned residents to play a more active role in their schools. And the intention of state lawmakers should be to put such information in the one place where local residents are likely to find it: the community newspaper.