Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Ritz Calls For Pause On School Voucher Expansion

State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly. (photo credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS).

State superintendent Glenda Ritz is asking state lawmakers to study the state’s voucher program in the second half of this 2016 General Assembly. As the legislature began the week, Ritz praised efforts made during the first half and explained her goals for the next.

She says she is happy the legislature expedited two education bills into law in the first five weeks. Both bills help hold teachers and schools harmless from the low ISTEP+ scores issued this year.

Ritz also expressed gratitude for legislation that would create a committee to study the ISTEP+ and evaluate its effectiveness.

“Since my campaign in 2012, I have called for an end to the costly, lengthy, pass/fail ISTEP+ assessment system currently in place in Indiana,” she said. “Instead we should create a new, student-centered assessment that provides students, families and educators with very quick feedback about student growth and performance. I am pleased to see momentum toward the creation of a committee I called for to study the design of a new state assessment.”

Ritz is asking the legislature to amend the bills creating this committee to make the state superintendent its co-chair – a provision not in the current version of the bills.

Another bill the state superintendent wants to see signed into law is a House bill that mandates all schools offer every diploma type available.

“This legislation has particular positive impact for students with special needs,” Ritz said. “Every student should be allowed to choose the pathway that bests meets their education and career goals.”

Ritz’s biggest ask of the legislature as it finishes its session for the year deals with the state’s expansive voucher program. She acknowledges that although this isn’t a budget session, focusing on the financial impact of this system is important going forward.

“For that reason, I am calling for a pause on the expansion of school vouchers,” Ritz said. “For too long, Indiana has diverted funding from public schools without studying the impact on our traditional school system. It is time for our state legislature to fully study the fiscal and academic impacts that the school voucher system is having on Indiana’s education system.”

There are a few bills still being considered addressing different issues of school choice, and Ritz says her main goal would be to stop the expansion of the program.

Stay up to date with all education legislation being considered in our legislative tracker.

Seven Oaks Charter Sees Increase In Enrollment In Monroe County

Monroe County’s first charter school is reporting more students enrolling in its 2016-2017 academic year. Seven Oaks Classical School board members said while they should be ready by this August, they still don’t know where the school is going to go.

Seven Oaks school board member Terry English says the latest numbers show 84 students ready to attend classes, up from 65 in January. While he admits that’s a far cry from the final 459 enrollees the charter hopes for, English says those students are signing up without the school having to do any advertising.

“It’s only very recently that we got notification that we were going to get the charter, so we’ll be more aggressively seeking out students as we go forward,” English says.

English says school administrators are looking at three locations in Monroe County for the future site of the conservative charter school, including the old Ellettsville elementary school. School board members are meeting on Monday, February 12, to discuss a potential contract with a construction company to refurbish one of the locations.

“Again, our target time to have students is August of 2016, so we have a lot to get done in a short period of time and we feel that that may be our best option,” English says.

Seven Oaks is holding a informational sessions on February 15 and 27 at the Ellettsville Library, and on March 15 at the Monroe County Public Library.

What Made It Through The First Half Of The Legislative Session?

The legislature continues to discuss education bills during the 2016 legislative session.

The legislature continues to discuss education bills during the 2016 legislative session. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana).

This week marked the halfway point for the 2016 General Assembly – when the house and senate pass their original bills and then switch, passing them to the other house. Following are the education bills that made it through the first half and moved to the opposite chamber.

[Check out our database of all education legislation, updated every week.]

The following bills were passed by the House and now go to the Senate for consideration:

Recruiting New Teachers

HB 1002 would create a scholarship for college students who want to be teachers, giving them $7,500 a year in tuition if they commit to teaching in the state for five years after graduation. After passing the House it went immediately to the Senate Appropriations committee. This bill had almost unanimous support in the House, passing through 96-1.

Teacher Salaries

HB 1004 would allow local school corporations to increase the salary of a teacher without consulting the teacher’s union, if the school district is trying put a teacher in a hard to fill spot (Special Ed, STEM classes, rural or urban schools). Unions and teachers have pushed back on this bill. It passed through the House narrowly, and representatives did not vote along party lines.

Teacher Raises

If passed, HB 1005 would increase pay for teachers rated effective, and it also makes teachers with lower ratings but in their first two years of teaching eligible for raises.


HB 1219 would require every high school to offer all diploma options approved by the State Board of Education. The SBOE is currently in the process of re-writing the diploma options for Indiana’s high school students, and under the current model schools choose which diploma type they offer. This bill would change that, giving every student the same option.

Future of ISTEP

HB 1395 gives the SBOE the authority to hire a third party vendor to rescore the 2015 ISTEP+ tests. This bill also would create a 24 person panel of educators, legislators and community members that would be charged with looking at the current assessment and make a plan for creating a new test.

The following are Senate education bills that now sit in the House:

Charter School Collection Data

SB 9 says charter schools don’t have to report the following information to the Department of Education: the number of students enrolled in their school, the name and address of each student, where the student transferred from or the student’s grade. The bill passed unanimously through the Senate.

Teacher Pay

SB 10 allows for teacher raises if the teachers has a master’s degree in the content area directly related to a dual credit course or a subject taught by the teacher. Teacher’s unions are not in favor of this bill because these raises are granted outside of the collective bargaining agreement. This narrowly passed through the Senate with a 26-24 vote.


Similar to language in HB 1395, SB 63 creates a panel of educators and lawmakers to examine alternations to the state assessment and generate report on their findings. Unanimously passed through the Senate.

Cursive Writing

SB 73 would require every school corporation to include cursive writing in its curriculum. Cursive writing bills have been introduced the past few years but never made it to the governor’s desk.

Various Education Matters

Among other things, SB 93 allows for an individual with a teaching license in another state to teach in Indiana without completing additional requirements. It also requires any test vendor that administers a state assessment to give the SBOE scores by July 1.

Out of School Programs

SB 251 creates a fund to establish before and after school programs that would be run by the Department of Education.

Financial Assistance for Teachers

SB 328 creates state funded grants for individuals studying to be teachers in high need subjects. Specifically includes students studying to be speech-language teachers.


Q&A: Jennifer McCormick, GOP Candidate For State Superintendent

The 2016 race for state superintendent got a little more interesting last week when current Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced she will challenge incumbent Glenda Ritz for the state superintendent spot. McCormick traveled the state to speak with constituents after announcing, and we caught up with her on the campaign trail to ask her about her run and vision for Indiana’s education system.

Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced she will challenge state superintendent Glenda Ritz as the Republican nominee. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI News)

Yorktown superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced she will challenge state superintendent Glenda Ritz as the Republican nominee. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI News)

Claire McInerny: So what prompted you to join this race and get into politics after such a long career in education?

Jennifer McCormick: There’s been a lot of frustration and i know sitting in the superintendent’s seat the local level we, many of us have felt that. What with the lack of vision and leadership at the DOE it has had a huge impact on many schools. Through that frustration I’ve decided to step up and try to do something about that.

CM: What do you mean by there’s a lack of leadership at the DOE that affected as a superintendent?

JM: I think when communication is either splintered or not there and things appear to be very disorganized, it greatly impacts the local level on how we operate, how we carry through on mandates or whether it’s suggestions, how we communicate to our staff, how we communicate to our parents– it’s a domino effect.

CM: It has been no secret that our current superintendent Glenda Ritz and Governor Pence has publicly disagreed and not gotten along. Do you think running as a Republican would improve the relationship between the Department of Education and the governor’s office?

JM: I think it’s extremely important to once again put politics aside and put students before politics. I know that’s difficult to do but it takes very purposeful communication, relationships that are at least professional. I think I would bring that first step into, not just the governor but it takes relationships with the legislators and professional organizations out there that communication is lacking in. It takes communication with a lot of local schools, everyone has to be involved in that team effort but I think it would be very important to rebuild those relationships, that’s extremely important to what we’re trying to accomplish.

CM: Under the Every Student Succeeds Act that the federal government just passed, states have this opportunity to change how we used assessments. Our current legislature has talked about ditching ISTEP+, maybe utilizing some of these things that are in ESSA. What’s your stance on assessing students every year?

JM: Currently, many of us are running an assessment system at the local level that is formative, that is ongoing. So we have an ongoing assessment of student performance. None of that formative assessment is aligned to the summative assessment. So many of us are running the assessment system now that is very splintered, so cleaning that up would be a huge relief to not only teachers but administrators and parents. It’s very difficult to explain to parents here’s the beginning of the year, middle of the year, end of the year based on a formative assessment, but based on the summative assessment it’s way off. That’s very difficult to explain to a parent, so really where is your child? How are they performing? Where are those gaps? That’s a very complex system, it’s going to take more than the Department of Education in isolation to come up with a solution for that, but that again is going to take a team effort but it’s got to happen.

CM: Another issues that’s really important in Indiana is school choice. We’ve seen expansive charter laws passed and more money put into the voucher program in this state. Where do you stand with the issue of school choice here? 

JM: For me, being in a public school, I’ve lived the money issue is where I think it becomes an issue for public schools. But every time, I’m a firm believer of if the environment at a particular school doesn’t fit the child’s needs then there are other opportunities and I would not tell a parent any differently. I’ve had many sit in my office and we’ve talked through things, and I’m very blunt about if this isn’t a good fit you owe it to your child, you owe it to yourself to find a good fit.

CM: Would you support or stand behind, for example, the governor putting more money into vouchers as the state has done the last few years?

JM: I won’t speak for the governor so I don’t know what his intentions are, but that’s a legislative decision.

Ritz: HB 1395 Offers Chance To Create More Student Centered Test

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has said she will consider a run for governor. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has said she will consider a run for governor. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

After HB 1395 passed through the House this week, the future of Indiana’s testing system has the opportunity to go in a different direction.

The bill, among other things, would create a panel of educators, legislators and community members to study and create a plan for moving to a new assessment type. This is also made possible by the Every Student Succeeds Act passed by the federal government this year, which replaces No Child Left Behind provisions. 

State superintendent Glenda Ritz says she is pleased the bill made it through this first hurdle in the legislature.

This move towards dropping the ISTEP and looking for a different assessment system comes after administration and scoring troubles during the 2015 assessment. 

Ritz says ideally, she’d like the proposed panel to come up with a vision for a different type of test rather than one that asks kids what they learned once a year. 

“I’d like for it to be adaptable, I want to know where children do preform as well as how they grow over the course of the year,” Ritz said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to really have assessments that give meaning to what the students see the results for.”

But many parents and educators have trouble with the high stakes attached to standardized assessments, not the test itself. Ritz says the State Board of Education took steps to address that issue last year, voting to factor more student growth into A-F grades.

“We have allowed within the new system that we created to put multiple measures, to perhaps include some formative information as part of accountability, to really get that accountability system where it is really talking about what happens in our schools and not just focused on one test,” she said. 

HB 1395 passed through the House and will now to go the Senate. 

Future of Indiana ‘Takeover’ Schools To Get Public Hearings

The State Board of Education Wednesday approved public hearing for a group of failing schools in the state.  (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education Wednesday approved public hearing for a group of failing schools in the state. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Public hearings are expected to start next month on the future of four long-troubled schools under state intervention.

All are in the fifth year of turnaround efforts by the State Board of Education and have been run by a charter school company picked by the board since 2012.

The board now must decide if the schools are returned to their home school corporation, changed into a charter school or some other combination of those options.

No matter the decision, board member Sarah O’Brien wants students and families to find out quickly how the schools could be altered for 2016-17 school year.

“They (should have) have ample time to understand exactly what their school looks like and what the game plan will be,” O’Brien said during Wednesday’s regular board meeting in Indianapolis.

In 2012 the state took over five schools, after six straight years of “F” grades and hired private companies to run the schools.

Three of the schools are run by Florida-based Charter Schools USA – Emma Donnan Middle School, Howe High School and Manual High School – all in Indianapolis. The New York-based Edison Learning manages Roosevelt high school in Gary.

The fifth school, Arlington Community High School, was returned to Indianapolis Public Schools district in 2015 after the managing company ended its contract with the board over a funding dispute.

All of the schools saw significant drops in enrollment when the charter companies took over in the 2012-13 school year.

Manual is the only school to improve to a D on the state’s A-F grading scale.

Due to changes in state law the past two years, the state board has more options on how to continue its intervention. Members can approve these schools become a “network innovation school”– which means they would become part of a public school district but operate independently.

IPS already partnered with Charter Schools USA to create Emma Donnan Elementary School, a feeder to the middle school.

Under these agreements, the schools considered part of IPS or another public district for student enrollment and academics, such as ISTEP+ scores and A-F school grades.

The public hearings will be held in the school districts where the takeover schools are located. A schedule for the hearings have yet to be set but board members expect a early March hearing for Roosevelt high school in Gary.

State Board To Address Chronically Failing Schools Wednesday

The State Board of Education meets Wednesday to discuss action plans for failing schools.

The State Board of Education meets Wednesday to discuss action plans for failing schools. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education meets Wednesday for a much more subdued meeting after last month’s that approved the long awaited A-F grades for 2015. Now that these grades are public the State Board of Education must address schools that fell in the lowest categories for multiple years in a row.

Schools that are in year four and five of receiving an F are put on specific plans to try and improve the school performance. Schools in year four are assigned a state contact that will help them

The board will take action Wednesday regarding the four schools that are in year five of receiving an F. The schools are Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy, Emma Donnan Middle School, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School and Emerich Manual High School. All are managed by Charter Schools USA, except Theodore Roosevelt which is managed by EdisonLearning.

The board can return these schools to their corporations, creating a new intervention strategy for the school or having the management team apply for a charter for the school.

These board will also discuss what the ESSA law could mean for the future of Indiana’s testing system, as well as get an update from Pearson about the implementation of the 2016 ISTEP+.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. and is live streamed online.

Where The Biggest Education Bills Are Midway Through Session

This week marks the halfway point of the 2016 legislative session Legislators will spend the week finalizing which bills will go to the opposite chamber, thus moving them into the next phase of the legislative process.

The House and Senate must pass any bills originating in their chamber by Wednesday if the bill is to continue in the legislative process.

Here are the bills we’re watching this session and where they stand at this halfway point:

HB 1002

This bill establishes a state issued scholarship aimed at recruiting more people to teach in Indiana. Every year 200 college students would receive The Next Generation Hoosier Scholarship, which would award students $7,500 a year over four years if they attend an Indiana university, receive a teaching certificate and commit to teaching in an Indiana school for five years after graduating. High school students from Indiana that graduate in the top 20 percent of their class or score in the top 20 percent on the SAT or ACT are eligible.

One notable change to the bill as it moved through the House was with an original eligibility requirement. The original version of the bill said the state would grant the scholarship to high school seniors.

After a current college student testified to the House Education Committee that it should be open to students already committed to teaching, language including students already at a post-secondary institution was added.

This passed through the House and is already on the Senate’s docket for the second half of the session.

HB 1004

This bill allows school districts to increase salaries for teachers in hard-to-fill teaching spots (STEM subjects or Special Education, for example), without consulting the teacher’s union. This is one proposed solution legislators are posing to attract and retain teachers, but unions have spoken out against the bill.

They say by not putting all teachers through the same collective bargaining process, they will pit teachers against one another. This has passed through the House Education and Ways and Means Committees, but still needs a second and third reading on the House floor before it would move to the Senate.

HB 1395

This bill covers a variety of issues related to the ISTEP+. One provision creates a committee of legislators, educators and various community members to discuss the statewide assessment and whether the state should adopt a new version of the test in two years.

The original version of the bill called for a re-score of the 2015 ISTEP+ tests, but an amendment shifted that decision to the State Board of Education.

Both the House Education Committee and Ways and Means Committee advanced it, so it must get a second and third reading from the full House to move over to the Senate.


This bill addresses teacher raises and provides new criteria a teacher can meet to get one. Some of those new provisions include teachers teaching dual-credit classes, as a way to retain a teacher or completing college credit in the field they teach.

This bill needs a third reading before leaving the Senate.


GOP Schools Leader To Challenge Ritz In State Supt. Race

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick, the superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools. Courtesy: Yorktown Community Schools

A small town school official announced plans to challenge Democrat Glenda Ritz in her reelection bid for state superintendent in the 2016 general election.

Yorktown Community Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has entered the superintendent’s race on the Republican side. If elected at the Republican party’s state convention in April, she would take on the incumbent Ritz, whose tenure thus far has been marked by political fights with Statehouse Republicans, including Governor Pence.

McCormick has been superintendent for six years in Yorktown — part of the Muncie Metropolitan area. Before that she was assistant superintendent and an elementary school principal in the district, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Speaking at the Statehouse, McCormick said she wouldn’t run a negative or politically motivated campaign, but says Ritz’s department has negatively impacted schools across the state.

“Indiana was once a leader in the nation — today we are not. Today we have a department of education that is disorganized and disconnected from schools,” McCormick says.

McCormick vowed to make the the state department of education a–quote–”great partner” and says she’d fix problems with the ISTEP while improving its credibility.

Indiana’s next superintendent will face a complex and ever-changing education policy landscape.
Lawmakers and educators are calling for the end to the annual standardized ISTEP exam; some would like to see a different type of student assessment used.

The recent reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act scales back the No Child Left Behind Act. The next state superintendent will oversee how Indiana adapts to a reduced federal role in its public schools.

It’s yet to be seen how McCormick will challenge Ritz.

Ritz, a former Indiana State Teachers Association board member, rode a grassroots campaign in 2012 to oust former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican, with 52 percent of the vote. The same year Republican Mike Pence was elected governor.

Bennett championed the adoption of the Common Core academic standards and other reforms such as teacher evaluations and state-takeover of chronically failing schools. Ritz said her win was a referendum on Bennett’s policies.

Political fighting and accusations between Ritz and Pence has become a hallmark of both their first terms.

In November 2013 Ritz accused Pence of “not seeking a power-grab, but rather a complete takeover” of state education policy. The reason? Pence formed a new education agency to support his appointees on the State Board of Education by executive order.

The two sparred over the length of the 2015 ISTEP. Pence criticized Ritz’s leadership during a press conference before the two found common ground on shortening a new version of the statewide math and English exam.

Then during last year’s legislative session, Republican lawmakers attempted to reduce Ritz’s education oversight through various bills.

Last June Ritz began a challenge against Pence in the 2016 gubernatorial election but bowed out two months later to focus on re-election as the state superintendent.

McCormick has an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and advance degrees from Ball State and Indiana State universities, according to Yorktown Schools. She is married to a teacher in the district and they have one child who attends school there.

About Yorktown Community Schools

McCormick’s Yorktown Community Schools corporation is made up of four schools with a total enrollment of 2,466 students this school year.

The district is rated A on the state’s A-F accountability scale. Last year 96.9 students graduated — the lowest rate in the district of the past four years.

Like most other schools across the state, Yorktown saw a major drop in the pass rate of the 2015 ISTEP — a decline of 22.4 percentage points to 62.3 percent.

District enrollment is majority white at 87.6 percent and 34 percent of student receive free or reduced price meals.

Teachers in the district were rated: effective, 64.4 percent; highly effective, 31.9 percent or not evaluated, 3.7 percent.. No teachers were rated ineffective or required improvement, according to the most recently available state data.

This report will be updated.

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