South Bend Tribune. March 28, 2021.

Editorial: Indiana’s governor has advice, not an order, on masks. Will anyone listen?

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb doesn’t seem comfortable with his own decision.

On one hand, he announced that it was time for Indiana to lift its mask mandate on April 6, turning it into only an “advisory.” Then he dropped the fact that he intends to keep wearing a mask.

“When I visit my favorite restaurants or conduct a public event, I will continue to appropriately wear a mask,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

If it’s the right thing to do … then why drop the mandate?

If he’s indeed reluctantly lifting the mandate, the reason is obvious. Holcomb didn’t make this decision based on health factors. He did it because of political pressure, as members of his own party have been pushing to rid Indiana of a mask mandate.

But in addition to dropping the mask mandate, Holcomb also announced that he was lifting all restrictions on businesses, including seating capacity and social distancing. He’s leaving rules in place for schools through the end of the current academic year. But Indiana is basically returning, all in, to the “old normal” on April 6.

He also left counties across the state in a bind. If they want to continue with their own local mask orders and restrictions, they’re on their own — no backup, no political cover, no help from the state. We doubt that many will stand up to that pressure.

The move comes as COVID news has been positive in recent months: Rates and hospitalizations are dropping. All the indicators are moving in the right direction.

But health experts agree that, although we’re nearing the end of the tunnel, we’re not there yet. You need look no further than Michigan, which is still struggling with the second highest COVID rate per capita in the country and where hospitals are filling up again.

Dropping all orders and restrictions now is a significant risk. Only time will tell if the gamble pays off.

We understand mask fatigue and the anxiety to move on. We know that businesses desperately are trying to recover. Vaccines are becoming widely available. But was there serious harm in waiting a few more weeks?

We’re oh-so-close. A little more patience could have gone a long way to ensuring safety — a little more time for more people to get vaccinated.

And did all restrictions have to be lifted at once? Couldn’t the governor have explored a plan that gradually phased out restrictions? Instead, he’s forced local jurisdictions to scramble and adapt, with little notice.

The onus is now on Indiana residents. You’re going to be asked by state and local leaders to still be careful and to try to maintain health standards. They’ll advise you to keep wearing masks, especially in large groups. They’ll advise you to stay safe. They’ll advise you to keep in mind that we’re not quite done with the pandemic.

We hope Indiana residents heed the advice. But we fear the governor has washed out the message. He may follow his own advice, but how many other Hoosiers will?

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Terre-Haute Tribune-Star. March 26, 2021.

Editorial: Lawmakers shrug off public schools in favor of private schools

Ten days from now, the Vigo County School Corp. will begin offering after-school tutoring to help kids overcome a loss of learning during the disruptive pandemic.

The tutoring in language arts and math stands as one of several strategies the school district will use to address the learning losses for local elementary, middle and high school students. The VCSC also plans to offer in-person summer school for middle and high school students, and a jumpstart program for elementary kids just before next school year begins.

Notably, the after-school program and other learning-loss recovery programs to follow in Vigo County are being funded through federal CARES Act. The amount of funding the county will receive through that second round of COVID-19 will be less than the initial estimates of $13.5 million, but it will be substantial. The VCSC has until September 2023 to spend the funds.

“We have an opportunity to do some really innovative, major things,” said Bill Riley, the VCSC director of communications.

Vigo schools and others throughout Indiana and the country will receive an additional infusion of funding through the American Rescue Plan, approved early this month by Congress.

It is refreshing to see funding provided to public schools to meet their needs, especially after such a grueling year of teachers, students and families toggling between in-person classes and remote learning; juggled schedules; postponed commencements; contact tracing; and quarantines.

Attitudes toward the needs of Hoosier public schools are quite different among the leaders of the ruling party of the Indiana General Assembly. At a time when public schools desperately need financial and moral support, with a shortage of teachers being exacerbated by the hardships of the pandemic, Republican legislators are pushing forward with plans that brush aside those predicaments.

There is no surprise that school boards, school administrators, teachers and support staffers feel disregarded by their elected representatives.

Those legislative leaders’ policy decisions reflect a willingness to carry out national school reformists’ desires, rather than those of everyday Hoosiers who want their community schools to thrive. Those schools educate more than 90% of Indiana children. Public schools are held to a gamut of accountability measures, from the State Board of Accounts to the U.S. Department of Education and their local school boards, and must accept all kids, as the Indiana Constitution stipulates.

Not so with private and charter schools.

Yet, the Republican leadership in the Indiana Legislature is forcing through legislation that directs a lopsided share of taxpayer funds into a vouchers and educational savings accounts for private- and charter-school educations. About 10% of Indiana kids attend private and charter schools.

Despite that, the legislation would divert $144 million of the total $378-million pie toward private education. That amounts to more than one-third of the total funding.

Never mind Gov. Eric Holcomb’s priority to make Indiana teacher salaries — which had the nation’s smallest growth in the first two decades of this century — competitive with other Midwestern states. A state commission recommended allotting an additional $600 million annually to do so.

Never mind that the results of the Legislature’s actions will dissuade more prospective teachers from entering the profession.

Never mind that a majority of Hoosiers favor state increases for teacher pay and taxpayer funds going to public schools rather than for private school vouchers, according to results of the 2020 and 2015 annual Hoosier Surveys by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs.

A marathon Indiana Senate School Funding Subcommittee hearing Thursday night provided the public a last chance to speak out in the General Assembly about the proposal. The session went on for six hours, but the bill is moving forward in the Legislature. It may underprioritize the needs of Indiana’s public school kids and their teachers, but never mind.

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Columbus Republic. March 25, 2021.

Editorial: Ordinance won’t stop root of ‘puppy mill’ problem

Sometimes bans just scratch the surface of a bigger issue.

Last week, Columbus City Council approved an ordinance on first reading to prohibit the sale of cats, dogs and rabbits at local pet shops.

In the city, just one business, Rural King, which sells rabbits as livestock, would be impacted by the ordinance.

Currently, all pet shops in Columbus work with adoption groups and rescues when helping cats and dogs find homes. These are fantastic programs that get pets to loving families and off the streets and out of shelters.

It’s hard to argue that “puppy mills,” and associated operations that compromise animal welfare, shouldn’t be condemned, but creating an ordinance for a problem that isn’t prevalent to the city isn’t needed at this time — and won’t solve the overall issue.

The residents of Columbus have ultimately decided they will not support for-profit animal sales. If there was a market for such a business, and puppy mills felt welcomed into the city, they would already have a presence.

In addition, should any new retail pet supply company move into town, 24 out of the top 25 pet stores in North America don’t sell puppies or kittens, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

One of the arguments made by the council was that the ordinance would reduce the number of animals in shelters and promote adoption.

The issue of any overcrowding at the animal shelters isn’t puppy mills, but irresponsible pet owners.

The ordinance means well, but wouldn’t stop puppy mills outside of the city from doing business. If change is to be made, it needs to come at the county and/or state level.

Should the ordinance pass, it wouldn’t prevent someone from driving to the rural part of Bartholomew County and purchasing an animal.

Any time animal rights are brought up, it’s understandably an emotional subject.

At the same time, creating rules for hypothetical issues such as this doesn’t seem necessary. Should an influx of business applications for pet stores pop up, the council could revisit the proposed ordinance.

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