INDIANAPOLIS — With just three months as a legislator, Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, filed her first bill with a focus on training requirements for future educators.

“I realized that the training has just been taken to a level that I’m sure they never intended it to go,” Donato said. “So this really gives us a chance to step back and analyze … what these teachers are doing.”

The bill requires the Indiana Department of Education to evaluate current requirements and prepare a report by October for legislators with recommendations for possibly streamlining, combing or reducing those requirements.

An estimated 15,000 teachers rallied at the statehouse building last October, asking legislators to repeal a teacher externship, hold teachers harmless for poor ILEARN test scores and raise teacher salaries. During that day, Donato said she visited with approximately 50 teachers from her district and listened to their concerns.

“Education is my personal mission and having the teachers here was just a bonus,” Donato said. “Then I went to as many schools as I could get to in my district and met them on their turf to see what they were talking about.”

While the committee didn’t vote on the bill Wednesday, representatives from associations for teachers, superintendents and school boards all voiced their support for the bill.

Committee members seemed to agree on the need for deregulation but recommended tweaks to the bill before it could receive another reading.

The committee also heard testimony related to Sen. Jean Leising’s (R-Oldenburg) bill which would require graduating high school seniors to apply for federal financial aid or file a waiver.

“I had real reservations myself about FAFSA and how invasive it was ... (until) I saw firsthand the benefit of (my granddaughter) taking the FAFSA,” Leising said. “By filling out the FAFSA, she became able and eligible to apply for all different kinds of scholarships … I just think we’ve got a lot of kids who are missing opportunities.”

Leising referred to Indiana’s low filing rate for the FAFSA, which sits around 35 percent. The FAFSA, the portal that facilitates applying for federal aid, offers students financial aid packages, which can include grants, loans and work study opportunities.

Leising and other senators offered conflicting statements about FAFSA during the testimony portion, not mentioning the loan or work study portion of the FAFSA.

“It’s not just government money, it’s foundational and company money,” Leising told Tim McRoberts, the associate executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals.

The FAFSA website doesn’t include private scholarships in its aid package, but the Department of Education has its own portal for scholarships.

While most agreed that more students should apply for aid through FAFSA, some disagreed about placing the onus on overly burdened schools.

“Sorry, Sen. Leising we testified against this bill last year and we will do so again this year mainly because (it’s) increasing mandates on our schools,” McRoberts said. “We just see this as another task to put on schools.”

The committee didn’t vote on the bill Wednesday, but some committee members expressed reservations about the FAFSA process, whether the program affected the national deficit and personal freedom.
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