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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Keep requirement to publish school performance reports in your newspaper

The whole idea of public notices is that the public will actually see them.

But a provision included in an education bill moving through the Indiana Legislature threatens Hoosiers’ access to such public information.

Three Indiana laws combine to support the public’s right to know what’s going on in government: the Public Notice Advertising Law (IC 5-3-1), the Open Door Law (IC 5-14-1.5) and the Access to Public Records Act (IC 5-14-3).

“The publication of public notices puts information about local, county and state government as well as local and state courts in places where people are likely to find it,” the Hoosier State Press Association explains, “resulting in maximum government transparency.”

The elements of an effective public notice, HSPA points out, include the use of an independent third party, which would be newspapers.

But House Bill 1003, which focuses on several education matters, also includes a provision to eliminate the requirement that school districts publish an annual performance report in a local newspaper. Rather, they would submit the report to the state Department of Education, which has been posting the results on its website.

The bill, authored by Rep. Jack Jordan of Bremen (R-District 17), passed on its third reading last week and was referred to the Senate. It provides “that a school corporation may publish in a local newspaper a summary of the annual performance report with a description of how to find and view the full annual performance report on the internet in lieu of publishing the whole annual performance report.”

While legislators may argue that public notices don’t need to be published in newspapers anymore due to diminishing circulations and because of the availability of other online sites, the fact is, publication by newspapers, both print and online, would guarantee far more readership than obscure government websites.

A 2017 Pulse of America national survey shows 66% of U.S. adults say they have read public notices in the newspaper at least occasionally. And 52.6% say they prefer important public notices to be published in the local newspaper rather than posted on the web at a government-operated web site.

According to the HSPA, the fact 3 million adults in Indiana read a newspaper at least once per week indicates public notices will be read by far more readers than the Department of Education website, where traffic is minimal.

And school performance reports are among the most-read public notices published in Indiana newspapers.

Leaving parents to figure out on their own where and how to find these reports on their children’s schools would require a lot of extra effort.

The HSPA, while stressing the importance of retaining the use of newspapers for public notices, has also been proactive in providing a means of finding them following their publication, wherever that may be. The organization is providing a service at IndianaPublicNotices.com, which is a repository for public notices that have been published in Indiana newspapers.

We stand with HSPA in urging the Indiana Legislature to eliminate the provision in HB 1003 that takes away the publication of schools’ performance reports in our state’s newspapers.

We echo a recent editorial in the South Bend Tribune that stated, “Legislators should be making it easier, not more complicated, for Hoosiers to access public notices.”

We urge you to contact your district’s state senator to support the retention of the requirement to publish school performance reports in Indiana newspapers.

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