Gubernatorial candidates square off in debate

gubenatorial-debate

NDIANAPOLIS — Taking questions from high school students in a high school auditorium, Indiana’s first gubernatorial debate of 2016 natural focused on education, workforce and testing.

All three candidates, Libertarian Rex Bell, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Eric Holcomb, made their pitch on why their policies would be best for moving the state forward.

The candidates spoke for about 45 minutes Tuesday morning at Lawrence North High School. The fielded questions from high school students ranging from how to replace ISTEP to how undocumented students should be treated in Indiana, especially in regards to college tuition. Currently in Indiana, undocumented students have to pay out of state tuition prices.

Gregg said the issue of undocumented students needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. He said most of the time the situation a student finds themselves in isn’t the fault of the student, but a product of circumstances.

Holcomb didn’t say whether he was for or against undocumented students getting in-state tuition prices, but said he had no plans to change the current law. He adopted the stance he’s taken on other issues, including civil rights for LGBT individuals: if there’s no chance of it passing in the Indiana General Assembly, he’s not going to spend his time on it.

“That issue has gained very little traction in the General Assembly,” he said. “Last time it didn’t even get out of committee.”

In a short debate where there was very little disagreement, perhaps the biggest separation came on the issue of standardized testing. All three candidates are in favor of getting rid of ISTEP but differ on how the state should replace it. Bell, who advocated for as much local control as possible throughout the debate, said testing should be left up to local school boards — even if it resulted in hundreds of different tests throughout the state.

Both Holcomb and Gregg are in favor of a statewide test similar to ISTEP. Holcomb said he wants it to be a single test instead of two or three and wants to continue to assign letters grades to schools based, in part, on how the schools perform on that test.

Gregg said he just wants a test that is short and has a quick turnaround so teachers, students and parents can see results faster instead of waiting until the following year.

Gregg tied over-testing and teaching to the test into another problem facing Indiana that came up during the debate: the teacher shortage. Gregg pointed to a “total lack of respect for teachers” as the reason fewer and fewer people are getting into the profession.

Holcomb said a lack of teachers is a nationwide problem and not something specific to Indiana. He advocated for better teacher pay and more dollars in the classroom as a way to fix the issue.

The candidates will square off again Monday night at the University of Indianapolis, where the topic will focus on economic policy.

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