Stay ahead of the curve as a political insider with deep policy analysis, daily briefings and policy-shaping tools.Request a Demo
Gov. Holcomb unveils plans to hold back more third graders, expand child care access
Gov. Eric Holcomb released his plans to grow Indiana’s early child care workforce and increase third grade literacy rates during his legislative agenda rollout on Monday. As a result of his proposal, thousands of third graders could be held back each year.
Holcomb’s agenda unveiled at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired marked the start of the 2024 legislative session, his eighth and final while in office. Next January a new governor will replace the term-limited Holcomb.
Lawmakers gaveled in Monday afternoon for session.
“I couldn’t be more excited, quite honestly, about the eighth of eight years and all that we’re going to get done,” Holcomb said Monday. “That’s what taking it to the next level is all about after all is constantly seeking to improve on every front, again to make Indiana the best place to live, work and play.”
Here how Holcomb’s legislative agenda would impact you:
Require schools to hold back more third graders
Students who fail the third grade reading test will be required to retake third grade starting in 2025, unless they qualify for a good cause exemption, such as if they’re an English-Language Learner student or enrolled in special education.
The effort is part of the state’s attempt to increase literacy rates for students. In 2023, nearly 1 in 5 third-graders failed the IREAD-3 test.
“We want to make sure that folks aren’t put at a disadvantage in grades four, five, six and on when they haven’t mastered that reading skill,” Holcomb said. “It’s also been said very simplistically, ‘The more you learn the more you earn.’ And there’s a lot of truth to that.”
Currently, schools largely have the flexibility to pass whomever they want to, even if they fail the IREAD test. As a result, most schools are choosing to hold back few students.
Of the nearly 14,000 third graders who failed the IREAD test in 2023, roughly 400 students had to retake third grade. If all third graders who didn’t qualify for a good cause exemption were held back, close to 8,000 students wouldn’t have advanced to fourth grade in 2023.
Holcomb also wants to require students take IREAD in the second grade, in addition to third grade. Right now, it’s offered to some second graders but not required. In 2023, 771 schools already give second graders the test.Plus, his proposal requires continued testing for any students that fail IREAD in third grade through the sixth grade.
House Minority Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, threw cold water on Holcomb’s proposal to hold back more students during his opening day speech on the House floor.
“Let’s enact universal pre-K so that all Hoosier children can have a strong educational foundation,” GiaQuinta said. “This will certainly improve our literacy rates — much more than holding kids back and bottlenecking our schools.”
Expand the number of early child care seats
Holcomb’s agenda doesn’t include any new dollars to expand early child care access, but he does recommend multiple legislative changes in order to increase the number of early child care seats in Indiana.
“We need to have more workers,” Holcomb said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to obviously accommodate more kiddos, and then their parents can get back in the workforce.”
One of his proposals would reduce the minimum age of certain early child care employees from 21 to 18 in some cases and 18 to 16 for supervised caregivers. He also wants to make it easier for teachers to serve as substitute caregivers.
His legislative proposals would also enable more early child care employees to qualify for state-funded early child care options. Those employees who make 58% of the state median income would qualify for On My Way Pre-K and Child Care and Development Fund vouchers.
Increase three year degree options
Holcomb wants to require every public university to offer at least one degree that can be achieved in three years.
The goal is to continue to make college degrees cheaper, and entice more students to complete their degrees. Right now, two-thirds of Hoosiers who seek a bachelor's degree finish within six years.
Require students to take a computer science course
If Holcomb’s legislative proposals advance, every high school student will have to take a computer science course in order to graduate starting in 2029.
Currently, 91% of high schools offer a computer science course, but only 7% of students enroll.
“Schools have done an incredible job quite frankly of offering all throughout the state of Indiana,” Holcomb said. “This next logical step of requiring by 2029, so we have time to get there, is in step with the way of the world that is digitally driven.”
Access to state money after an emergency
Another part of Holcomb’s legislative agenda would make it easier for Hoosiers and communities to access disaster relief dollars after flooding, tornados or other natural disasters.
His plan would enable someone to qualify for disaster relief dollars even before the federal government declares a disaster and increase the maximum amount of financial assistance someone can qualify for.
He also would incentivize county leaders ro prepare an emergency plan in advance of a natural disaster by offering them more money for doing so.
“Make it easier for local leaders to respond in the now.”
Holcomb’s agenda also includes the launch of a new one-stop website connecting Hoosiers to jobs and training programs and a commitment to review bail reform efforts and their impact on crime and recidivism rates.
Lawmakers, specifically Republican legislative leaders, are the ones with the power to make Holcomb’s goals a reality. While legislative leaders come from the same political party as Holcomb, they’ve broken with the governor on some items on past wishlists.
This, however, should be a smooth session. Both House and Senate Republicans have said they will support efforts to increase reading proficiency rates, but neither chamber has shared specifics.
In the House Republican agenda rolled out on Monday, legislative leaders said they will support efforts to “make Indiana the No. 1 state in the nation for third grade reading proficiency by 2027.”
Senate Republicans will unveil their legislative agenda on Thursday.
“Senate Republicans share several of the governor’s priorities like expanding access to child care and supporting our students,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said in an emailed statement, “especially as it pertains to ensuring our third graders have the foundational reading skills they need to be successful as they progress in school.”
The session will be a fast-paced one. It’s a non-state budget writing year, which means lawmakers must wrap up by mid-March at the latest.
Senators rejected a proposal Monday to remove strict limitations on what legal research Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters. That means House Bill 1338 could face a full Senate vote on Tuesday with provisions that supporters of the access counselor’s office argue would hamstring its ability to answer questions about …
Indiana doctors performed fewer than four abortions a week during the final three months of 2023, continuing the sharp downturn under the state’s near-total abortion ban.
Doctors reported 46 abortions from October through December, according to the state Department of Health’s latest quarterly report on abortions.
The ban that took effect in August allows abortions only in cases of rape or incest before 10 weeks post-fertilization or to protect the life and health of the mother or because of a lethal fetal anomaly up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also voided the state licenses of all Indiana abortion clinics, allowing abortions only in hospitals or hospital-owned surgery centers.
Of the abortions reported during the fourth quarter of last year, 22 were because of lethal fetal anomalies, 21 were attributed to health risks to the pregnant woman and three were due to rape or incest, according to the state report released last week.
The 46 abortions during the fourth quarter represented a 97% drop from the 1,724 reported during the same three months in 2022 while the abortion ban was blocked by a judge’s order later overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Indiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group, hailed the decline but joined criticism of the Department of Health for not releasing individual terminated pregnancy reports as it had done before the ban went into effect.
The agency has said it no longer releases those reports under state law that declares medical records confidential because of more detailed information required from doctors.
“The Indiana Department of Health is blocking public access to terminated pregnancy reports,” Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said in a statement Monday. “This manipulation creates a lack of transparency, making it impossible to verify these numbers are accurate — and that Indiana law is being followed related to abortion activity.”
Abortion-rights supporters have argued that the ban wrongly limits access to health care. They’ve also maintained that abortion care would largely be unavailable outside Indianapolis even in situations meeting the limited exceptions, with the procedure no longer available at abortion clinics.
All but two of the 46 abortions during the reporting period were performed at Indianapolis hospitals, with the most at Riley Health Maternity Tower (21) and Eskenazi Hospital (10). The only hospital-performed abortions outside Indianapolis were one each at Dupont Hospital and Parkview Regional Medical Center, both in Fort Wayne.
The Senate has backed off a proposal that would block lawyers who’ve faced recent serious misconduct sanctions from running for state attorney general. A Senate committee had added a provision to an elections-related bill last week as Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita remains under scrutiny from the state’s attorney disciplinary commission after being reprimanded by …
The scope of what Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters would be strictly limited under provisions added to legislation in the closing days of the legislative session.
Amendments that a Senate committee made this week to House Bill 1338 would also reduce the office’s independence by eliminating the four-year term the access counselor has after being appointed by the governor.
The Legislature in 1999 established the access counselor position to review questions from the public, government officials and others about the state’s open meetings and public records laws.
The public access counselor’s office, with two attorneys and one other staff member, issues dozens of advisory opinions each year but has no authority to enforce the access laws or punish violators.
Advocate says amendment ‘guts’ counselor’s authority
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, offered the amendment allowing the access counselor’s advisory opinions to consider only “the public access laws, as plainly written,” and “valid opinions of Indiana courts.”
Freeman, chair of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, expressed frustration with Public Access Counselor Luke Britt’s opinions without giving specifics during the Tuesday meeting when the provision was added.
“The public access counselor, it says that he, in this case, shall liberally construe the code,” Freeman said. “He’s issued some opinions that I vehemently disagree with and I think others in our body and in this building vehemently disagree with.”
The amendment “functionally guts” the access counselor’s ability to consider the context of a situation unless it has been directly addressed by the Legislature or court, said Amelia McClure, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
“The code can never contemplate all of the different circumstances that public access concerns are going to arise,” McClure said. “So the public access counselor has to consider new technologies, what location, the circumstances of the conversation in a way that a civil code will never be able to contemplate.”
Britt was appointed access counselor in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence and reappointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017 and 2021.
Britt, whose current term runs until Oct. 31, 2025, declined to comment to State Affairs on Freeman’s amendments. The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply Thursday to a request for comment.
The restrictions on the access counselor’s office were not raised during the first seven weeks of this year’s legislative session and became public only two days before the Senate committee’s deadline to take action.
Public access counselor’s role at issue
Some conservatives criticized an opinion Britt released last fall in which he concluded the Hamilton East Public Library Board in Fishers violated the open meetings law when two board members met with their attorneys at a coffee shop.
That opinion came amid public debate over a push by conservative members of that board to review all youth-section books and move those with “inappropriate” content to adult sections.
The opening section of Indiana’s public records law states it should be “liberally construed to implement this policy and place the burden of proof for the nondisclosure of a public record on the public agency that would deny access to the record.”
Freeman said during the committee meeting that he favored striking the “liberally construed” phrase from the law, but other senators thought that went too far.
The amendment limiting the access counselor’s authority was added to the bill on a 5-3 vote as Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor joined Freeman and other Republicans Mike Bohacek, Cyndi Carrasco and Eric Koch. Republicans Liz Brown and Sue Glick and Democrat Rodney Pol voted against the amendment.
Glick said the restriction on what the access counselor could consider didn’t make sense.
“You’re paying an attorney for their opinion, and now you’re limiting that,” Glick said.
Change would eliminate term of office
Freeman also advocated for an amendment eliminating the access counselor’s four-year term and making the position one that serves “at the pleasure of the governor.”
“When we have a new governor … I believe the governor should be able to pick the person that they’re choosing to serve,” Freeman said. “As any other appointed office, we serve at the privilege of the governor. So I believe this should be no different.”
Those people appointed to lead state departments can typically be removed at the governor’s discretion. However, hundreds of appointments to state boards and other positions, such as the state Election Division’s co-directors, are made for set terms.
McClure, the Hoosier State Press Association’s director, said eliminating the four-year term would take away some of the office’s independence from political concerns.
“That’s important when it’s an advisory opinion that’s interpreting actions of all kinds of different bodies that have all kinds of different political affiliations,” McClure said.
The full bill, which initially focused only on allowing local government boards to establish meeting decorum rules, could be taken up by the full Senate next week. The additions would still also need approval from the House before this year’s legislative session ends by March 14.