Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Lawmaker Seeks More Prayer In School

Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, authored House Bill 1024 to prevent discrimination against a student on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression in a public school. (

Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, authored House Bill 1024 to prevent discrimination against a student on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression in a public school. (photo credit: Indiana House Democrats)

Could more prayer in school be a cure for societal ills?

Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, says it can. His legislation, House Bill 1024, would prevent discrimination of students who pray in school or express their religious beliefs, such as through clothing, jewelry or writing.

“What this bill does is provide religious education for high school students and allows children to pray and pray out loud in school,” Bartlett said Monday during a House Education Committee hearing. “It is not mandatory, but it gives you the opportunity to pray.”

The bill passed the House Education Committee 10-2 Tuesday and now heads to the full House.

If made into law, schools would have to provide opportunity for students to express their own religious beliefs during events where other students are speaking. The Department of Education and state attorney would be required to provide a “model policy” on these issues for schools to adopt.

An amendment added to the bill also allows principals to prohibit religious expression if it’s “contrary to citizenship or moral instruction.”

Several Indianapolis pastors spoke in favor of the legislation Monday during the first part of the hearing. Students are being dragged down by poverty, gun violence and prescription drug abuse, they said, but prayer can help them see a way out.

Rev. Wayne Moore, pastor of Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, said he was appealing to the lawmakers’ conscious to approve the bill. As a child, Moore said, he was buoyed by the religion he was taught in school, including learning how to pray.

“A lot of our foundations are literally crumbling,” he said. “We have lost our principals and morals in political decisions.”

But David Sklar, government affairs director with the Jewish Community Relations Council, spoke against the bill. The organization, he said, has heard very few concerns about religious accommodations in public schools.

“That tells us the status quo is working,” he said, later adding: “We believe as a community that prayer is taught in our religious institutions. It is up to us as parents to make sure that our students, our children, receive that religious education as we see fit.”

Sklar and others questioned whether the bill was needed at all. Students are already allowed to organize their own religious groups at schools and pray inside a school, standards set by court cases.

Indianapolis attorney Morris Klapper, who is Jewish, fears the legislation could lead to children singled out for their beliefs. As a child, he said, he was harassed by teachers because of his religion.

Klapper tussled with Republican Rep. Tim Wesco, a Baptist minister, over the legality of the bill and whether it could led to schools promoting one religion over another.

“You better appropriate several hundred thousands dollars to defend this statute if it is passed,” Klapper said during testimony.

Wesco, who was seated near the public comment podium, turned around to face Klapper.

“I’m sorry sir — I am a pastor of a church,” he said. “I know what a church is. And a child praying is not a church.”

The one student to testify was Carmel High School senior Mary Carmen Zakrajsek. Her club — Carmel Teens For Life — almost took part in a lawsuit against the school district recently over alleged censorship.

In November, a poster by the group was removed from a wall in the high school. The school said the poster did not meet signage guidelines nor was granted approval by the administration.

But Zakrajsek told lawmakers that the group’s anti-abortion stance was the true reason.

“Student’s voices are being silenced and it’s time to take a stand — for what is right,” she said, adding that the bill would protect students’ ideological beliefs.

After Zakrajsek testified, Moore asked those in the room to applaud her. They did.

The committee approved a bill amendment that would make it optional for school corporations to offer an elective course in religion, such as the historical or cultural study of religion. Bartlett wanted it to be a requirement.

On Tuesday, another amendment was approved that allows school administrators to prohibit religious expression if it’s “contrary to citizenship or moral instruction.”

Democrat Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary supports the bill and said those religious limits are needed.

“There’s a lot of crazy stuff out there now,” he said without being specific. “We need to try and make sure that does not enter into our schools as well.”

But Democrat Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis said he’s heard no evidence that prayer is constrained in schools during two days of testimony.  If this bill becomes law, he said, students of all religions will wind up offended and possibly suing the state.

“You destroy prayer by having the state behind it,” he said. “That’s what this bill does.”

A second reading for the bill has not yet been scheduled.

ISTEP Replacement Bill Clears House

The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill replacing the ISTEP with a new state test. It now goes to the Senate. (Alberto G/flicker)

The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill replacing the ISTEP with a new state test. It now goes to the Senate. (Alberto G/flicker)

The Indiana House passed legislation Monday to replace the ISTEP exam starting in the 2018-19 school year.

House Bill 1003 was approved in a 67-31 vote. It offers the basic framework for a new exam called I-LEARN. That stands for Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network.

Rep. Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis) authored the bill and said it includes recommendations from educators on how to make the exam better than ISTEP.

“Make it shorter. Quicker return. End of year assessment,” he said when asked what would set the test apart. “A single test window. And have Hoosier educators directly involved in either creation or grading of it.”

The bill calls for a standardized exam for students in grades 3-8 and for students to take an end of course assessment at least once in grades 9-12.

The legislation also allows the State Board of Education to decide whether to purchase a so-called off-the-shelf exam or oversee the design of a unique test for Indiana. Lawmakers and experts have debated those choices this session.

Before Monday’s vote, some lawmakers pleaded with their colleagues to vote the measure down. But Bhening, chairman of the House Education Committee, reminded them that some type of standardized test was required by the new federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act.

Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) refused to say Behning’s name as he decried the bill as a short-sighted attempt at creating a complex testing system. He took issue with the title of proposed exam, asking why teachers should be evaluated by it when the ISTEP has become a faulty measure of teacher effectiveness.

“Our purpose is to not to really help children,” he said. “It is to embarrass schools with a population that comes from lower socioeconomic standings and communities.”

The ISTEP has become a political and educational flash point during recent years. Computer problems have plagued the administration of the exam at local schools. State officials have fought over the length of the exam.

Two years ago a hastily designed and updated ISTEP, coupled with new academic standards, led to a 21-point drop in the state average pass rate. Scores from the exam last year fell further. Superintendents across the state have said they no longer believe the test is a quality measure of student achievement.

The British-owned Pearson is administrating the ISTEP+ as part of a $38 million two-year contract that ends this year.

Senate Kills Bill To Appoint State Superintendent

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, left, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, are in support of making the state superintendent an appointed position. But today, the Senate killed a bill that would make that happy.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne), left, and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), are in support of making the state superintendent an appointed position. But today, the Senate killed a bill that would make that happen. (photo credit: Dan Goldblatt / Indiana Public Media)

Republican and Democratic senators voted down a bill Monday that would have changed the Superintendent of Public Instruction from an elected position to an appointed one.

This session, both the House and Senate sponsored bills to make the state’s highest education official an appointed position, and Monday, the Senate voted down its version of the bill, with 17 Republicans joining all of the Democrats in voting against it. The final vote was 23-26.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long spoke in favor of the bill, saying the head of the Department of Education should be chosen by the governor, just like every other department head in the state.

“Only 13 states, including Indiana, elect their superintendent, and only nine, including Indiana, make it a partisan election,” Long says.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) voted against the bill and says it could result in major policy swings each time a new governor enters office.

“In the long run, that will be more harmful to education, than some kind of stable, checks and balances, you have to fight each other over this to get a result done,” Kenley says.

Making the state superintendent an appointed position rather than an elected official has been a long term goal for Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb and many of his predecessors.

This issue was a discussion point in previous sessions, and prompted a dramatic discussion because many Democrats said it was a way for Republicans to get rid of former state superintendent Glenda Ritz, who often clashed with Republicans. But supporters of the bill this year say the desire to make the position appointed was bigger than one person.

Later in the day Monday, the similar House Bill 1005 passed out of the House
to the Senate by a vote of 68-29.

House Speaker and author Brian Bosma refused to say whether his
legislation was doomed by the Senate vote. Senate rules dictate, if a
bill receives as many no votes as SB 179 did, nothing similar may be
heard in either chamber.

“Somehow, someway, some of those items come back together,” he said
about legislation in years past that has faced a similar defeat in one
chamber.

Bosma said there are ways to bypass the Senate to get the legislation
onto the governor’s desk, such as adding the language into the House
budget.

Is It Time For More Comprehensive Sex Education In Indiana?

Teachers in Indiana are expected to teach abstinence and are discouraged from teaching safe sex lessons. (Jill Sheridan/IPB News)

Teachers in Indiana are expected to teach abstinence and are discouraged from teaching safe sex lessons. (Jill Sheridan/IPB News)

 

A national report from the Population Institute gives Indiana a failing grade for reproductive rights. It measures many reproductive health categories, including access to contraception, insurance coverage and abortion restrictions. And in the prevention category, which includes sex education, Indiana received a zero.

Though teen pregnancy rates have dipped in Indiana, the report finds half of all pregnancies in the state are unintended.

Ryan Tucker has been teaching health at Lebanon High School in north central Indiana, for more than 10 years.

“You hear the phrase knowledge is power, information is power,” says Tucker. “So why not give them as much as we can and hope they can make more mature responsible decisions?”

According to the most recent Youth Risk Assessment Survey, 41 percent of Indiana teens are sexually active. But under current state standards, Tucker is not allowed to teach about contraception.

“We’re not allowed to design our lesson to talk about safe sex practice, but students are allowed to ask me questions, and I can give appropriate information for those questions,” Tucker says.

The federal government currently supports abstinence education, more commonly referred to now as sexual risk avoidance. It gives money to states that teach it. And schools in Indiana stay away from topics like safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, except for HIV/AIDS.

There is a bill this session to change this. Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) says it’s time for an update.

“Our Department of [Education] has not revised health curriculum academic standards since 2010, and for me that seems like light years away – in the way our society has changed,” Leising says.

A bill filed this session aims for a more comprehensive health education program that would be frank about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Leising thinks schools should give young adults this information.

“It’s wrong for us, when we have that medical data not to share it with young people and still express a conservative view,” says Leising. “I’m not advocating that kids do drugs and have sex, but, that, there are a lot of risks when you participate in that behavior.”

Some Indiana school districts supplement their sex education with help from nonprofits developing additional approaches to abstinence, sexual risk avoidance, education. Creating Positive Relationships is one of these organizations.

Director Karyn Mitchell says teen pregnancy is nothing new.

“You know 100 years ago we were talking about this,” says Mitchell. “A girl is less likely to graduate, more likely to live in poverty. We still haven’t figured out what to do with that.”

The program aims to give young people tools to have healthy relationships without sex.

“Studies have shown too that schools that pass out condoms see a higher percentage of kids who are sexually active,” Mitchell says.

Studies are actually conflicting on this issue, and there is some evidence that safer sex programs help to reduce sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy.

Health Care Education and Training Executive Director Abby Hunt works to promote reproductive health in Indiana. She says there are things that teens need to know about safe sex.

“They need to know, if they decide to become sexually active, how to not become pregnant or cause a pregnancy. So they need to know about contraception, how to access that,” says Hunt.

Hunt says common ground about health sexual education can be achieved.

“When you really get into communities and you’re willing to have an open conversation about this work, usually you can find a place where everybody agrees,” Hunt says.

And, for her part, Sen. Leising hopes everyone can agree the state needs to update its sex education curriculum.

“My whole thing is to try and keep them healthy, healthy for the rest of their life,” Leising says.

The bill has not had a hearing in the Senate.

This Week At The Statehouse: Teacher Bonuses, Pre-K, State Supt.

Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), center, is head of the Senate Committee on Education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn (center) is head of the Senate Committee on Education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

This week Indiana lawmakers had some frank discussions on education matters. Here are the highlights:

House Budget Proposal Eliminates Teacher Bonus Program

The Indiana House of Representatives revealed its first draft of the state budget for the next two years Wednesday, which eliminates the teacher bonus program and re-invests that money into general K-12 spending. The teacher performance grants have been a source of scrutiny, after the formula created large disparities in bonuses. Some teachers received $2,500. Others received nothing.

Senate Pre-K Bill Moves Forward

A bill written to expand state-funded preschool from five to 10 counties is moving ahead. The Senate education committee added an amendment that would open the expansion to any level 3 or 4 pre-K program, regardless of county. This would make the current expansion limit a financial one: the total amount allocated for the program in this legislation is $22 million. The bill is now in the Senate appropriations committee.

House Bill Would Change State Superintendent To A Political Appointment

House Republicans debated their version of legislation this week that would make the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position starting in 2021.

Republicans and Democrats have considered this change over the years. But Republicans have favored it more since Democrat Glenda Ritz’s surprise win over former-superintendent Tony Bennett in the 2012 election.

Yet Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), author of House Bill 1005, says the change is not about who has been elected but to ensure the superintendent is aligned with the governor on policy and budget.

The bill also allows for the governor to appoint anyone – a change from current law that requires the superintendent to reside in Indiana for at least two years.

State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, a Democrat, says that would allow a “national search” for the best candidate.

“This is not about the next four years — it is about the next 50,” he said during his endorsement.

Democrats attempted to amend the bill with a provision that the appointee be an Indiana resident.

Bosma says that would prevent some like education reformer Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from being appointed to oversee Indiana schools. The amendment failed.

HB 1005 was ordered to go ahead to a final vote.

Failing Private Schools Could Keep Vouchers Under Republican Plan

Private or religious schools that become ineligible to accept publicly funded vouchers to help students pay tuition could receive a new lifeline from a Republican backed plan announced during Thursday’s House Education Committee meeting.

Under current law, private or religious schools in Indiana rated a D or F for two consecutive years in the state accountability system lose the ability to accept more vouchers through the Choice Scholarship Program.

Chairman Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) says that’s not fair.

Behning’s proposal would allow the State Board of Education to decide whether a private school could remain part of the voucher program despite two years of low or failing accountability grades. This would be a similar approach to how the state board reviews failing traditional or charter schools. More here.

Student Journalists Win Committee Support

Student journalists seeking protections from school administrators who want to censor their work passed their first hurdle this week.

House Bill 1130 won unanimous support from the Education Committee despite lingering concerns from some lawmakers that the bill could give young reporters and editors too much freedom. It now heads to the full House.

The legislation is part of a nationwide campaign called New Voices, spearheaded by the national Student Press Law Center and supported by the Indiana High School Press Association.

Diana Hadley, the association’s executive director, attempted similar legislation in the late-1990s but it failed after opposition from some state associations, including those for school principals and school boards.

This week those same groups asked that the bill be struck down. They say the landmark 1988 Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier set enough legal precedent for school newspapers.

Union Membership And Teacher Evaluation Bill Fails

A senate bill that would have required schools to publicly display the amount of union membership failed to move ahead. The bill would also have required a change in teacher evaluations. It was stopped in a 5-5 vote.

Failing Private Schools Could Keep Vouchers Under Republican Plan

House Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, has proposed a plan to allow failing private and religious schools appeal to keep receiving publicly funded vouchers to pay student tuition. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

House Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, has proposed a plan to allow failing private and religious schools appeal to keep receiving publicly funded vouchers to pay student tuition. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Private or religious schools that become ineligible to accept publicly funded vouchers to help students pay tuition could receive a new lifeline from a Republican backed plan announced during Thursday’s House Education Committee meeting.

Under current law, private or religious schools in Indiana rated a D or F for two consecutive years in the state accountability system lose the ability to accept more vouchers through the Choice Scholarship Program.

Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said that’s not fair.

Bhening’s proposal would allow the State Board of Education to decide whether a private school could remain part of the voucher program despite two years of low or failing accountability grades. This would be a similar approach to how the state board reviews failing traditional or charter schools.

Principal LaQuila Dunn of the private Turning Point Academy in Indianapolis wants the rule changed too.

Dunn said the changes to state policy, such as revamping the ISTEP+ exam and adopting new academic standards, caused the K-8 school’s scores to drop.

Turning Point Academy was unable to accept new vouchers after the 2013-14 accountability grades were released. It was rated an F. A year earlier it was a D. The school is now graded A.

“We are not here today to skirt accountability,” Dunn said. “All we are asking is that when there are extenuating circumstances you see there is something in place so we can appeal.”

But Democrats on the committee, like Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis disagree. He described Bhening’s proposal as one of a few bills this session “gaming the system.”

“We set up a lot of rules for what people got to do to get our money,” DeLaney said of the establishment of the voucher program. “Then when the rules don’t work out for some individuals we bend the rules.”

When private school vouchers were first introduced to Indiana in 2011, supporters said the law would allow poor families to escape failing schools. Holding private schools to a higher level of accountability than traditional public schools was a way to ensure academic quality, supporters also maintained.

Behning’s amendment No. 6 was approved by a 9-4 vote along party lines. It was added to House Bill 1384 that deals with changes to calculating high school graduation cohorts. A vote and further debate on the bill is expected during Monday’s Education Committee meeting.

Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program has become one of the biggest private voucher programs in the county. It has grown exponentially from just under 4,000 students in 2011-12 to 32,686 students last school year. During that time, income and other requirements have expanded to make more families eligible.

report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

House Budget Proposal Eliminates Teacher Bonus Program

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana House of Representatives revealed its first draft of the state budget for the next two years Wednesday, which eliminates the teacher bonus program and re-invests that money into general K-12 spending.

The teachers performance grants are based mainly on how students perform on state tests. In 2016, the formula that calculates these bonuses created a huge disparity, with some teachers getting thousands of dollars and some teachers receiving nothing. The House budget gets rid of the program and re-invests the $40 million into general K-12 spending.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who also heads the Senate budget committee, says he disagrees with eliminating the state funded teacher bonus program.

“That’s a concept that I think is pretty important, and I hope we can develop it properly. This last year, two years’ experience, was bad but it was an unforeseen occurrence,” Kenley says.

The disparity in the bonuses for the highest rated teachers grew after another statewide dip in ISTEP+ scores. The formula allocates less money to teachers in lower scoring districts.

To keep the program and fix the disparity, lawmakers like Kenley would have to re-write the law.

The House’s budget proposal would also increase overall school funding by almost 3 percent. The increases also apply to special education and English learner funding. It would also double funding to the pre-K pilot program.

The budget bill is now open to amendments.

Bonuses Inconsistent With Teacher Performance Statewide

Julie Arnold is a fifth grade teacher in Carmel Clay Schools, and received one of the highest bonuses issues by the state this year, around $2,500. Other teachers in the state, with the same, high ranking as Arnold, received different bonus amounts, including $0. The formula that calculates the bonuses are based mainly on standardized test scores. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Julie Arnold is a fifth grade teacher in Carmel Clay Schools, and received one of the highest bonuses issued by the state this year, around $2,500. But many top-rated teachers received lower bonuses or nothing at all. The formula that calculates the bonuses is largely based on standardized test scores. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Heather Peacock is part of a family of educators.

“Both my sister and sister-in-law are teachers,” she says.

The three of them teach in different school districts in the Indianapolis area: Zionsville, Perry Township, and Wayne Township, where Peacock works. Right before the holidays, they all received their state-issued bonuses for being good teachers.

“It was kind of fascinating, we were all together at Christmas, and I thought, OK, the three of us are all highly-effective educators,” Peacock says. “While I didn’t begrudge any one of them for their extra money coming on their check, I found it very interesting we had all been rated highly effective by our school administrators and we were all receiving different amounts of money.

One sister got a $2,200 bonus, the other got $900. Peacock received $47.

How Test Scores Affect The State’s Best Teachers

Each year, the state allocates millions of dollars in bonuses to Indiana’s highest rated teachers. But the don’t all get the same amount of money. This year, some got $2,500 dollars, and others $0. These allocations come from a formula, created by the legislature. It’s mainly based on test scores. So if most of a teacher’s students pass the ISTEP+, the teacher gets a higher bonus. If many students fail, that affects the teacher’s bonus.

This past year, ISTEP+ scores dropped across the state, so the bonuses were even smaller. And the teachers in school districts where families have more money, few students live in poverty, and most of them are native English speakers without special education needs, they received the most money.


Peacock received a $47 bonus, despite being rated highly effective by her principal and facing a lot of challenges in her classroom.

She taught at Wayne Township’s McClelland Elementary for 18 years. A third of her students are English language learners and around half of her class uses special education services.

These special learning plans require check-ins with parents and administrators, which means she spends a lot of time in meetings, doing paperwork, and creating substitute plans for when she’s meeting with a parent. Peacock is usually at McClelland Elementary from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.- and most Sundays.

But because her students have various academic challenges, they didn’t have a high passing rate on the ISTEP+ last year. Which meant Peacock received one of the lowest bonuses (besides those who received nothing) in the state.

Peacock says, when teachers put in so much time and effort, a bonus helps their families afford a vacation or an opportunity to pad their savings.

“It could have really helped,” she says. “But my husband and I didn’t dwell. We have lots of friends where the shoe was on the other foot, so we were pleased for them.”

A great teacher, with a great bonus

At Carmel Clay Schools, 25 miles away, Superintendent Nick Wahl was not pleased when the bonuses came out.

“It was very sad to be quite frank,” he says.

In the current bonus formula, his highly effective teachers got the largest bonuses in the state, around $2,500. But he says the formula has to change.

“We have public school teachers across the state, from urban to suburban to rural, who are doing very good things in the classroom every day, and unfortunately it sent them a message that they’re not as important per se,” Wahl says. “I think that’s very unfortunate.”

Wahl says the state needs to value all of its top rated public school teachers equally – from Heather Peacock in Wayne Township to one of his highest rated teachers, Julie Arnold.

It’s obvious when you walk into her fifth grade gifted class at Forest Dale Elementary in Carmel, Arnold’s kids love learning. They gushed about a science experiment they did earlier in the day, and one of her students, Lily, explained what makes Arnold a good teacher.

“She gives us choices,” Lily says. “Some people learn a different way than others, and will teach them in that way. She’ll let people group together and some work on their own. They each get to work in the way they want to.”

Like Peacock, when she goes home, Arnold plans lessons, does her paperwork and answers parent emails for 4-5 hours. She takes Saturdays off and works in her classroom on Sundays.

“I think of myself as a teacher for the whole child,” Arnold says. “So those things are necessary.”

Arnold says her bonus was helpful.

“That money was spent in the classroom long ago,” she says. “It gives you a bit of breathing room, to look at new tile, or a rug I had not intended to purchase.”

But while she got that breathing room, Arnold thinks the formula should change so other teachers can as well.

“I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t spend countless hours outside the classroom, who didn’t totally invest in what they were doing during the day, and at considerable sacrifice,” Arnold says.

A More Equitable Way To Give Teachers Bonuses?

Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts says using test scores to calculate bonuses doesn’t recognize everything that teachers do.

“Is it about the impact that teacher has on that child from the time they walk into the classroom from the time they are no longer with that teacher?” Butts says. “Of course we would argue teacher performance is about that impact that teacher has on each one of those children.”

Butts, Wahl and other administrators around the state are asking lawmakers to change the formula. Many would rather see it based on student growth. So a teacher could get a bonus if students improve on testing throughout the year, regardless if they pass or not.

Lawmakers are currently discussion how to approach teacher bonuses. The House version of the budget eliminates the program altogether, and suggests re-investing the money into general K-12 funding. This already has pushback in the Senate, where some Senators have expressed wanting to keep the program.

Regardless of what happens at the Statehouse, both teachers say they don’t expect a bonus. And Wayne Township’s Peacock says she gets her validation from her students and their families.

“I’m not here for a bonus. I didn’t’ become a teacher to make piles of money,” Peacock says. “I love what I do.”

Peacock and many of her colleagues donated their $47 bonuses to their district’s education foundation, which gives teachers grants to try new things in the classroom. So far they’ve raised $4,000.

Indiana School Credit Ratings At Risk, May Cost Districts Millions

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s says that is has placed a 90-day watch on loans to Indiana districts due to uncertainty that districts can pay off their debt in a timely manner. (401(K) 2012/Flickr)

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s says that it’s placed a 90-day watch on loans to Indiana districts due to uncertainty that districts can pay off their debt in a timely manner. (401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Millions of dollars are on the line for Indiana school districts, as a national credit agency threatens to downgrade Indiana school debt “by as much as several notches.”

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s says that it has placed a 90-day watch on loans to Indiana districts due to uncertainty that districts can pay off their debt in a timely manner. The warning was triggered by a new interpretation of Indiana law, as originally reported by Chalkbeat Indiana.

When districts borrow money – if they can’t pay off their loans, the state is obligated by law to pay in their place. It keeps districts with good credit ratings, and therefore low interest. But that technique has raised concerns.

“We believe there is uncertainty that intercept payments will always be made available to ensure timely payment of debt service in full on this ‘AA+’ rated debt,” S&P said in a statement.

A drop in credit rating could mean big bucks for local school districts. It would affect interest rates for all 261 public school districts in the state. Continue Reading

Report: Indiana School Funding Increases Lag In Areas With Low-Income Students

A new report from Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy reviewed changes to Indiana school finances and enrollment in the study, as well as examining funding equity between school corporations. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A new report from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy reviewed changes to Indiana school finances and enrollment in the study, as well as examining funding equity between school corporations. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Recent changes to Indiana’s state school funding formula have improved equity, yet funding increases have been relatively smaller for school corporations serving the most low-income students, according to a new report from an Indiana University researcher.

The report, “Equity Analyses of the 2015-2017 Indiana School Funding Formula,” presents an analysis of changes in school funding, as well as its impact in whether districts with greater need receive additional support.

Thomas Sugimoto, lead author of the study and research associate at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, says he was suprised by how changes in enrollment and funding vary across Indiana.

“Looking at traditional school corporation enrollment, some lost nearly half their enrollment between 2009 and 2017,” he said, in a statement. “While others increased by more than 30 percent.” Continue Reading

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