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An amendment in the waning hours of the 2020 legislative session led to a change that will leave Hoosiers less informed about the status of their public schools.

A conference committee report on House Bill 1003 contained not one but two changes to public notice requirements for Indiana school districts.

Just for the record, this is not the way the legislative process ought to work. Bills like this one should go through the normal process. They should be considered in committee and debated on the floors of both houses before finding their way into law.

That’s not what happened here.

Instead, these provisions found their way into the bill after it had already passed both houses. A conference committee working out differences between the House and Senate versions ended up adding language that had not been part of either version.

This sort of thing happens every year in the mad dash toward adjournment, but it really shouldn’t.

One of the changes allows school districts to publish an abbreviated version of their annual school performance reports in the local newspaper and refer to the full report online. The second provision makes that same change in regard to the financial reports districts are required to publish every August.

The first provision had been part of an earlier version of the legislation, but the second provision had not been discussed at all in a public setting before finding its way into the final version of the bill.

Both of these reports contain important information.

The school performance report, for example, reveals the percentage of high school students pursuing academic honors diplomas and the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. It gives the number of students enrolled in career and technical programs, and it shows how the number of students in the district compares to the number of teachers. It reveals how many incidents of bullying the school district reported.

The debate over publication of these reports isn’t new, of course.

Every year in the Indiana General Assembly, newspapers fight to maintain the required public notices while groups representing the various units of local government fight to scale them back.

Newspapers are consistent in their argument: Taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and there is no better way to keep the public informed than to publish that information in the local newspaper.

We’ll keep making that argument. We’d appreciate your support.

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