INDIANAPOLIS — Legislative leaders are not entirely on board with Gov. Eric Holcomb's call to realign Indiana's education and workforce development programs, during the 2018 General Assembly, to primarily meet the needs of the state's employers.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, both said at a recent conference that while they agree with the governor's overall goal, it won't be possible to do in the 10 weeks that lawmakers meet next year, starting Wednesday.
"We'll nibble around the edges, but a systemic fix is not happening," said Holdman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Insurance and Financial Institutions.
Bosma indicted part of the problem is that Holcomb has not laid out many specific details of how he intends to transform Indiana's fragmented education and workforce systems into a direct employment training pipeline.
"There are several proposals on the table that are worthy of discussion," Bosma said. "But nothing that really radically and systemically revises what we're doing today — which is spending $1 billion through nine different agencies and 30 different programs, and not moving the ball."
"I have yet to see the silver bullet."
That doesn't mean, however, that Bosma is not interested in working on workforce issues.
"I think the proposals the governor has placed in front of us are workable," Bosma said. "We'll work with them. We've got a few ideas of our own."
But Bosma said probably the best thing to do is take time to reconsider everything the state now is doing, rather than immediately creating at least two more state boards and dozens of additional local workforce committees, as Holcomb has proposed.
"We're not going to have a solution this session," Bosma said. "We need to have a hard stop so that people plan on it, and get it done in 2019."
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He said that means evaluating and eliminating existing education and workforce programs that aren't delivering on their promises before replacing them with services that lawmakers believe will do a better job preparing Hoosiers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
"It's time to say, 'Hey, let's rethink this. How could we spend $1 billion if we were starting from scratch?'" Bosma said. "The only way you can do that is to sunset programs."
Holcomb, meanwhile, is urging lawmakers to prioritize workforce issues next session, and act quickly, because "we don't have time to waste."
"We've rightly spent the last 10 to 12 years diversifying our economy here in the state of Indiana, and we need to make sure that our educational system truly matches that evolution and the evolving economy — this tech-driven economy — that we find ourselves in," Holcomb said.
To meet that challenge requires infusing science, technology, engineering and mathematics throughout the curriculum, as well as making computer science training available in every school by 2021, he said.
How exactly that happens, and who pays for it, Holcomb has said little beyond promising: "We're going to move away from the regulatory and compliance, top-down approach, and forward the capacity-building to the very local level, the street-level."
Hoosier Democrats are skeptical of the entire endeavor, pointing out that Holcomb's language on workforce issues almost identically matches similar promises made by Republican former Govs. Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence dating back to 2005.
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said if Statehouse Republicans want to improve the quality of Hoosier workers they should spend less time denigrating and de-funding Indiana schools.
"Republicans' divisive education policies haven’t helped stem the tide of Indiana's workforce crisis; in fact they’ve fueled it," Zody said. "You can’t learn about science, technology, engineering or math when your school is closed."