School voucher demand in Indiana is leveling off, according to a report from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy published last month. The report titled “Mapping the Growth of Statewide Voucher Programs in the United States” tracked publicly- funded school voucher programs in Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Voucher programs cover private school tuition for students from low-income families given that they meet eligibility requirements. Indiana’s voucher program, The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program has been in place since 2011 and offers students a variety of ways to meet eligibility to attend private schools, such as having a sibling enrolled in the program or attending public school for one year. The program offers both ninety-percent coverage and fifty-percent coverage scholarships depending on a family’s income level. In the first two years of its implementation, only about half of the available scholarships were used. Most recently, legislators have removed the enrollment cap, and participation in the program increased approximately one hundred and seventeen percent from the previous year. However, the question remains on whether these numbers will continue to increase. Publicly-funded voucher programs face critics who say that money is being funneled away from public education to private, often religious, institutions.
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Bloomington’s local co-op grocery is undergoing major challenges. That is how a press release from Bloomingfoods describes recent developments there.
Tim Clougher, the former board president, has resigned and been replaced by another board member, Caroline Beebe. At the same time, Bloomingfoods has invited a national organization to review its operations.
Last week, the Daily Local News ran a feature interview with a co-op member, Keith Taylor, who had been circulating a petition that demanded just such a review or an audit. Taylor also researches cooperatives at the Ostrom Workshop at IU. He also stated that he had access to most of the board and many of its employees. He had come to the conclusion that Bloomingfoods may not survive the imminent arrival of competition unless it made significant changes.
The Bloomingfoods press release acknowledges major challenges, mentioning the announcements from Lucky’s Market and from Wholefoods that they were opening stores in town. It didn’t mention that the recently renovated Kroger on College Mall Road has an expanded natural and whole foods section, an area in which Bloomingfoods has specialized.
Bloomingfoods announced that it has asked for the assistance of the National Co-operative Grocers Association, the leading professional organization of this sector, to which Bloomingfoods belongs. The external reviewers have been scheduled to pay a site visit at the end of April. In the interest of full disclosure, Bloomingfoods is an underwriter at WFHB.
Monroe County has announced an impromptu closure of the County Courthouse tomorrow. Valerie Haughton, the presiding judge of the Monroe County Circuit Court, says a septic backup at the courthouse has forced the building to close down. Haughton says all court dates scheduled tomorrow are canceled. Anyone scheduled to attend court tomorrow should contact the Office of Court Services about rescheduling. Haughton says it’s currently unclear whether the situation at the Courthouse could pose threats to the health of anyone inside the building. Hazardous materials experts are scheduled to inspect the building tomorrow. It’s not yet clear whether the building will reopen on Wednesday.
Last night the Bloomington City Council voted to give downtown drivers back 2 hours of free parking each day. The Council voted to start enforcing the meter rules at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. They also moved the end of parking enforcement up an hour, from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. Council member Steve Volan presented a proposal to cut the enforcement hours. Volan said the idea was based on a proposal from Mayor Mark Kruzan’s administration.
“They were suggesting cutting 4 hours out of the 18 hour days” Volan referencing the proposal of Kruzan’s administration. “Both my ordinance only propose to cut 2 hours of the day off.” Volan states.
Cutting the enforcement hours is expected to cost the city government $175,000 a year in meter revenue. Although it approved the reduction in hours, the Council rejected another proposal that would have cut costs for drivers. Volan suggested reducing the cost of parking on the edges of downtown, where many parking spaces are under-utilized. He proposed cutting the cost from a dollar an hour to 50 cents an hour. But some Council members, including Susan Sandberg, said that would be too confusing for residents.
Sandberg exclaims, “I think consistency is our smartest strategy in trying to, again, get the public to vie in to the fact we no longer have 2 hour free parking” “having it be a dollar can be a prohibitory factor” Sandberg says.
The Council did approve several other changes to the parking rule. The parking garage on Morton Street will now allow drivers 3 hours of free parking. The Council also gave the mayor discretion to suspend meter operation on holidays and in other special circumstances, such as extreme weather. The changes don’t take effect until after the mayor signs the legislation and the City Clerk publishes it.
Momentum is building for a law in Bloomington that would seek to limit the use of plastic shopping bags. This week the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability urged the Bloomington City Council to draw up and enact such an ordinance. Andrea Jobe, a City council appointee to the Sustainability Commission, reported to the commission about the “Bring Your Own Bag” initiative, the working title of the draft ordinance that could be brought to the City Council as soon as May.
“When fully implemented this ordinance apply to business that give away plastic bags” Jobe states. “This isn’t new” Jobe says, “Plastic bag ordinances have been effective in over 130 cities in the US…and at least 70 countries.”
Jobe said that the draft ordinance will call for a ban on stores giving non-reusable plastic bags to their customers. She said the bags cause problems beyond litter.
“They cause issues at the recycling centers and landfills and clog up the equipment” Jobe explains. “The idea is to bring a reusable bag and get the community in the habit of doing so”
It will include a charge for the supply of paper bags. There will be exemptions for plastic bags used for take-away fresh produce and meats, and for pharmaceuticals. Jobe then asked the Commission to send a letter of support for the initiative After some discussion, Jeff Jewell, Commission Chairperson, proposed and the members accepted such this request.
The Bloomington Plan Commission has approved a redevelopment plan for the northeast corner of The College Mall. The proposal includes the new Wholefoods Market that is moving into the current Sears property. It also includes a Panera Bread outlet along 3rd Street and a B.J.’s Restaurant along College Mall Road. The owners of the mall, the Simon Property Group, had revised parts of the proposal at the request of Plan Commission members and staff. Eric Greulich, a city planner, outlines the main features of the development. He says that the new plan will incorporate a pedestrian network with a sidewalk and a tree plot sight connecting multiple areas.
In order to accommodate the additional buildings and make the mall more pedestrian friendly, the proposal will reduce the total number of parking spaces by about ten percent and add more greenery. At the Panera Bread site, Commission member Susan Fernandez voiced concern over pedestrians who would have to cross a drive-through lane to get to the customer entrance. Rod Bosper, a spokesman for the Simons group, responded that the new proposal was a safer proposition.
The Commission later approved the proposal. Also at the meeting, the commission heard a proposal to remove soil and grade a 28-acre site at the northeast corner of Fullerton Pike and state road 37. This intersection will become an interchange on the new Interstate 69. The Bill C. Brown Trust, the owner of the property, wants permission to do this work so it can sell the soil to the contractor building the interchange. Steve Smith, representing the owner, explained that the attendant leveling of the property would also make eventual commercial development more easy, as the owner anticipates. Commission member, Pat Williams, raised concerns about doing this grading work on a site with Karst features.
The Commission later approved the grading proposal unanimously.
Freedom Indiana announced a new campaign today, just less than two weeks after the group helped force state legislators to amend the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The grass roots coalition is now focused on enacting protection in cities and towns protecting the LGBT community from further discrimination. In a press release today, the organization said it will work to, “adopt comprehensive nondiscrimination policies at the local level in order to provide important protections for LGBT Hoosiers until they are passed at the statewide level.” The law in Indiana does not specifically protect LGBTQ Hoosiers, meaning they can legally be discriminated against in situations such as employment. Freedom Indiana says they still plan to push for a Freedom Indiana next year.
The state Senate today voted to repeal Indiana’s Common Construction Wage Law. For the past 80 years the law has established minimum pay rates for construction employees working on government projects in Indiana. Supporters of the wage law say it guarantees workers are paid a fair wage. They say it also helps protect Indiana contractors from losing business to out-of-state companies that work for cheap. But Republicans in state government have pushed to repeal the law, saying it would cut the cost of public projects. The Senate passed the repeal today today by a vote of 27 to 22, according to the Associated Press. The issue now goes back to the House of Representatives, which already passed one version of the repeal. The House must vote on the bill again because the Senate changed parts of the legislation.
The Bloomington City Council has indicated it may make significant changes to how it manages parking downtown. At a meeting last week there were two proposal packages. City Clerk Regina Moore summarized the first, from Council Member Steve Volan.
Moore summarizes, “This is to improve parking management in the downtown by imposing a maximum charge for on-street metered parking, setting forth actual times and fees in an amended schedule, providing a period of free parking in all garages, and establishing a fee discount and waiver program to be provided by a new parking commission.”
Volan says approximately two million dollars was collected from the new meters during the first year of their introduction. He says revenue was divided almost equally between cash versus credit card payments. Volan introduced his proposal by first framing it in what he called a mission statement for the City’s parking meter program.
Volan said, “I don’t think that we’ve actually defined what our goal is for our parking system so I have offered a few suggestions…we want to incentivise diversity and fairness for populations who use the downtown that have unique needs. And also consider that the excess revenue when we are not using it to pay for the cost of parking itself, to use it to increase the economic and social sustainability of the downtown.”
Volan’s proposal would change meter hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.. Currently the meters run from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. He also recommended keeping the dollar per hour charge for meters in the downtown core, while reducing the charge to fifty cents for meters on the periphery of the core. He suggested offering three hour free parking at the Morton Street Garage and allowing parking fee waivers for volunteers of non-profits. After considerable discussion on Volan’s proposal, Council member Darryl Neher introduced his proposal for changes in the city parking policy. City Clerk Moore summarized that proposal.
Moore explains, “This is in regard to shortening the hours of enforcement on street metered parking, eliminating the credit card convenience fee for meter use, authorizing the mayor to declare parking holidays, and extending hours of enforcement to Lot 9 which is the 4th street garage.”
Council member Volan pointed out that his proposal and the one from Council member Neher are complementary. A special session of the City Council has been scheduled for this Wednesday to discuss the parking issue further.
The reported number of HIV cases in Southeastern Indiana has increased to 106. That’s up from 89 declared cases just four days earlier.
Those numbers are all from the State Department of Health. The department has helped establish what it calls a One-Stop Shop in Scott County, where many of the cases have been discovered.
There is also a new clinic there as well as a public awareness program titled ‘You Are Not Alone.’ A 30-day needle exchange program opened in Scott County on April 4.
An Executive Order by Governor Mike Pence has suspended Indiana Code regarding needle exchange in Scott County, allowing clean needles to be freely given and dirty needles to be turned in. More than a thousand clean needles have already been distributed.