Kit Malone, who consults for the ACLU of Indiana, says it could mean some feel emboldened to deny trans children the respect and dignity they deserve. (Photo by Drew Daudelin)
One day after President Donald Trump’s administration removed Title IX guidelines that seek to protect transgender students’ rights, local groups and advocates spoke out against the decision Thursday. Kit Malone, who consults for the ACLU of Indiana, says it could mean some feel emboldened to deny trans children the respect and dignity they deserve. “We know that trans children in public schools face incredible rates of harassment and discrimination,” Malone says. “Up to 75 percent of trans children report feeling unsafe in schools.” Krisztina Inskeep, an Indiana Youth Group board member and the parent of a trans son, notes the decision to rescind the guidelines doesn’t change the law. “But it allows unnecessary confusion and turmoil in the schools and in society, it opens the door for denying students their rights,” Inskeep says. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a Virginia case involving a transgender student using the school bathroom, a case with strong ties to the newly-rescinded guidelines. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 28.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, reduced funding for a pre-K expansion bill, from $10 million a year to $3 million a year. (photo credit: Bill Shaw / Indiana Public Broadcasting)
A Senate committee voted Thursday to reduce the amount of additional money given to state-funded preschool. Democrats and many Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, advocated for a $10 million increase, but an amendment written by Senate Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, reduces the increase for On My Way Pre-K to $3 million.
Kenley’s amendment, passed by the appropriations committee 12-1, dramatically reduces the money to expand state-funded pre-K education, and it allocates money to a preschool program that would be taught at home. Kenley says the program is “not homeschooling.”
Holcomb asked the legislature for a $10 million a year increase to On My Way Pre-K before the session started, but Kenley says he doesn’t want to expand the program significantly until a longitudinal study measures success.
Kenley also has philosophical differences with state-funded pre-K.
“All it does is alleviate the responsibility of the parent to prepare the child for education,” Kenley says.
The amendment also allocates $1 million to provide assistance for people who are homeschooling a preschool-aged child.
In a statement released after the appropriations committee reduced the governor’s plan, Holcomb’s spokesperson, Stephanie Wilson, underlined his commitment to state-funded pre-K expansion.
“It’s a key component of the governor’s legislative agenda and one that will contribute directly to the state’s efforts to build a 21st century skilled and ready workforce by ensuring Hoosier students have a strong beginning to their education,” Wilson said.
When the state launched On My Pre-K in 2015, Indiana became one of the last states to have a state-funded preschool program. The pre-K pilot program gives scholarships to low-income families to attend an already established, high quality preschool.
But Indiana still offers far fewer education services for low-income preschools than most states in the country: The pilot is small, serving about 3,700 students in the three years since its launch.
But Kenley says the state does supports its preschoolers.
“There’s already $400 million a year that’s being spent on programs for kids under the age of 5, including the fact that 37 school corporations have a full pre-K program,” Kenley says.
But many of these pre-K programs aren’t free. Almost all school districts charge tuition until a child reaches K-12.
This bill, with the amendment, must pass the full Senate by Tuesday, the deadline for the first half of the session. If the full Senate passes it, it heads to the House for consideration.
The White House has released new guidance allowing schools to determine which bathrooms transgender students may use. (Pixabay)
Republican President Donald Trump’s administration is revoking the federal stance on guidelines to protect transgender students’ rights in schools, according to a letter sent to public schools nationwide by the Justice Department.
The letter reverses former President Barack Obama’s landmark interpretation of law that would have withheld federal funds from schools if they forced transgender students to use bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identity. The Trump administration says they are withdrawing that guidance, leaving it up to states and local school districts.
“There must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local districts in creating educational policy,” the letter says.
Andrew Clampitt, spokesperson for Monroe County Community School Corporation in Bloomington, Ind., says the change in guidelines will not change the district’s policies. Bloomington schools will continue to operate gender neutral bathrooms in all of their facilities.
Clampitt says that respects all students – transgender or otherwise.
“All bathrooms are clearly identified as gender neutral,” Clampitt says. “Those are available to all of our students and it’s been a non-issue.”
Bloomington has had gender neutral bathrooms in school since 2015. Farther south, other schools are cautiously optimistic with federal government’s change of stance.
Dan Scherry, superintendent of North Spencer Country School Corporation, says the new stance will allow schools to uphold values they see fit.
“I think that the federal government on requiring southern Indiana to follow laws based on other states that we may not share total cultural viewpoints with, I think that’s overreach,” Scherry says. “So, yeah, it helps us as far as not being mandated to follow other people’s expectations.”
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and chair of senate committee on education, welcomes the change. Kruse says children should should go to the bathroom in facilities aligned with their biological sex, not their gender identity.
“We should keep women’s and men’s restrooms separately,” says Kruse. “If a person who is confused or switching — if they think they are a man or a woman and go back and forth — they should have to go to the restroom the way they were born.”
LGBTQ+ organizations and civil liberties advocacy groups are decrying the change.
“We’re extremely disappointed that the administration would take this action, we think it sends a horrible message students, to vulnerable young people across the country, that this administration will not protect them,” says Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU Indiana.
Schools are still barred from discriminating against students based on sex under federal law. Henegar says that if a transgender student is being treated differently than their peers by school administration – such as being forced to use a single-user bathroom – that could constitute as discrimination.
As we’ve reported, when the original guidance came down from the Obama administration, Indiana religious groups called for people to contact local school boards and government to reject it.
Then-Gov. Mike Pence said, in a statement, education should be a state and local function.
“Policies regarding the security and privacy of students in our schools should be in the hands of Hoosier parents and local schools, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC.,” Pence, said at the time. “The federal government has no business getting involved in issues of this nature.”
The U.S. Supreme Court announced in November that it plans to take a case where a transgender student was denied using bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect the stance of Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and chair of senate committee on education.
The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
The Senate education committee wrapped up the the session’s first half Wednesday.
SB 250, which dealt with graduation cohorts, was not heard and therefore does not go forward this session. Both SB 407, which is a general education bill, and SB 498, dealing with teacher compensation, will go forward to the full House.
Next Tuesday marks the end of the first half of the session. All Senate and House bills must pass through their initial chambers to continue in the second half.
The Senate education committee will reconvene March 8, when it will begin hearing bills passed out of the House.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.
StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives. Learn More »