Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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

Freeze On Travel Ban Brings Uneasy Hope For Those Affected

For Suzanne Kawamleh, the past few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster. The Syrian-American woman had been directly affected by President Trump's immigration and travel ban. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

For Suzanne Kawamleh, the past few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster. The Syrian-American woman was directly affected by President Trump’s immigration and travel ban. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

For Suzanne Kawamleh, it’s been a rollercoaster of a few weeks.

“I am Syrian-American. My family are refugees, it’s not something to be proud of and its not something I would ever wish on anybody,” Kawamleh says. “But it’s the truth.”

A federal appeals panel unanimously ruled Thursday to reject President Donald Trump’s bid to reinstate his immigration and travel ban. The ruling allows refugees and immigrants from seven countries to continue to travel to the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

And the federal judges’ 3-0 ruling against reinstating Trump’s order means a lot to Kawamleh.

“I found out through Facebook, I think,” Kawamleh says with a laugh. “It felt like a victory and it felt like a voice of reason amidst all the madness.”

When Trump signed the order on Jan. 27, Kawamleh and her family were directly affected.

She was born in the U.S. But she also holds Syrian citizenship. Growing up, she lived in Syria off and on, going almost every year.

She remembers the way it used to be.

“Jasmine is the known flower,” Kawamleh says. “So, when you walk in the streets its just the vines and flowers and the scent of jasmine everywhere before the city wakes up.”

That all changed. In 2011, the Syrian civil war broke out. It began with protests in her family’s hometown. Now, she says, the town is unrecognizable.

“It’s not the same streets and it’s not the same buildings,” Kawamleh says. “One of our homes was shelled and so that wasn’t there anymore. And the other home was taken by extremist forces.” Continue Reading

This Week At The Statehouse: Discussion On Appointed Superintendent

Senate Education Committee chair Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and house Education Committee Chair Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) stand in the House chamber. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Senate Education Committee chair Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) stand in the House chamber. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

This week, legislators discussed many education bills, including one that would make state superintendent an appointed position and options for replacing the ISTEP. Here are the highlights:

Senate: Appointing The State Superintendent

The bill to make the Superintendent of Public Instruction a political appointment moved out of committee this week. Author Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) would allow the governor to appoint the superintendent of public instruction, starting in 2021.

Democratic senators and the Indiana State Teachers Association object. They say it is bad public policy to take that decision out of the hands of voters and to give the governor more power over education.

Senate: School Year Start Time Moves Out of Committee

SB 88 would mandate all school districts start the school year on Sept. 1. It passed out of committee and now goes to the full Senate for discussion. Some senators expressed concerns but voted to pass it out of committee because they want their colleagues to weigh in. Read more about this bill in last week’s round up.

House Pre-K Bill Moves Forward As McCormick, Others Want Changes

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties. This is the pilot program that provides state-funded preschool for 4-year olds in low-income families.

The bill passed 61-34 in the full House but lawmakers from both parties say a provision in the bill to include those same children in the state’s private school voucher program should become separate legislation.

Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City) voted for the law that created Indiana’s Choice Scholarship program wants the two issues in separate bills. Another Republican, Rep. Wendy McNamara of Evansville, also voted yes but said she would vote against the bill if it it returns from the Senate without the voucher link removed. Read more about that discussion.

Lawmakers Say Bill Would Update State’s “Dinosaur”-Style Ed System

House Bill 1007 seeks to allow more type of course providers to sell curriculum to public schools – from state colleges to for-profit virtual schools. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero), says this will help rural schools that are unable to offer a wide-range of classes for students or other districts that face a teacher shortage. The Department of Education would be tasked with overseeing quality of the course providers and negotiating fees – estimated at $200 to $600 per course.

But some lawmakers and current course providers criticized the proposal.

Michele Eaton, the virtual education specialist for Wayne Township Schools’ Achieve Virtual, says her program requires three staff members just to oversee course content. Eaton estimated that the DOE would need a significant staff and funding to oversee new content providers offering many courses.

Eaton says Achieve Virtual was able to open and offer course to students from multiple school districts without any change to current law.

Eaton says she was not against the bill but warned lawmakers that for-profit providers could care more about making money than ensuring students are learning.

Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) and other Republican lawmakers rejected the concerns. Lucas labels Indiana’s school system a “dinosaur,” and called  for a more modern outlook.

The legislation will return to the Education Committee next week for a vote.

Despite Objections ISTEP Replacement Bill Passes Committee

The future of Indiana’s student testing system remained a battle Thursday, yet legislation to design a new statewide assessment inched closer to approval.

House Bill 1003 sets basic guidelines for the State Board of Education to design or purchase an ISTEP replacement for 2019. The bill passed out of the House Education committee but not without attempts to drastically change it.

An amendment by Indianapolis Democrat Ed DeLaney sought to stop students from taking the ISTEP.

Despite concerns about its effectiveness, state education officials and lawmakers agree that the ISTEP will be used as the assessment for Spring 2017 and Spring 2018.

For ISTEP Replacement, Lawmakers Skeptical Of Indiana-Specific Test

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the design or purchase of the new exam.

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the design or purchase of the new exam. (David Hartman / Flickr)

Legislation that would replace the ISTEP exam with a new assessment in Spring 2019 got its first debate Tuesday at the Statehouse but it’s unclear what the new exam will be.

House Bill 1003 makes a lot of requirements for Indiana’s next assessment for students in 3-8 grades and 10th grade.

The test needs to be reliable, graded in part by Indiana teachers, and scores returned quickly. Lawmakers also want it to be inexpensive — or at least less than state’s current two-year $38 million ISTEP contract.

But during a hearing Tuesday Indianapolis Democrat Rep. Ed Delaney said the legislation is too focused on creating a test totally unique to Indiana.

He mocked other lawmakers for their fear of Common Core — the academic standards that Indiana adopted in 2010 and then voided in 2014, as ordered by former Gov. Mike Pence, as part of a nation-wide conservative backlash. A hastily created set of unique Indiana standards were written to replace it.

That change has made it more difficult for Indiana to use a so-called “off-the-shelf” exam that would be far less expensive than the current test administered by British-owned Pearson.

“I think we are wasting our time and money and our kids come out confused and not comparable to kids in other states,” Delaney said. “I do not see the value in that.”

Testing expert Ed Roeber testified Tuesday that Indiana does need somewhat of a specially designed exam since the academic standards are unlike other states. He estimated an “off-the-shelf” end-of-year assessment such as PARCC would only cover up to 65 percent of Indiana’s math and English standards.

Though last fall, another expert said PARCC could be used in Indiana.

Roeber, also on Tuesday, said the bill’s proposal for test results to be returned by July 1 seemed unlikely if it is administered at the end of the school year.

During the Tuesday hearing many educators, workforce development representatives and other education officials voiced their support of the legislation’s main intent — to end replace ISTEP starting in the 2018-19 school year.

The bill calls for a new statewide assessment program named ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The State Board of Education would be responsible for overseeing the design or purchase of the new exam.

Many of the ideas about designing ILEARN were recommended by a panel convened by lawmakers to offer suggestion.

Legislation author Bob Bhening, R-Indianapolis, said multiple amendments would be filed for Thursday’s House Education Committee hearing. A vote could be taken then.

House Passes Pre-K Bill That Links To Private Voucher Expansion

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties for low-income families. It provides free preschool at state-approved private homes, schools or other daycare options.

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties for low-income families. It provides free preschool at state-approved private homes, schools or other daycare options.” credit=”Sonia Hooda / Flickr

The Indiana House of Representatives passed their version of preschool expansion Tuesday, but not without concerns from both parties.

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties for low-income families. It provides free preschool at state-approved private homes, schools or other daycare options.

Republicans and Democrats agree the program should be expanded in some way. How much funding would be allocated has yet to be worked out by the House budget makers.

But Hartford City Republican Rep. Kevin Mahan and other lawmakers said a provision in the bill that would include those same families in the state’s private school voucher program should become separate legislation.

We covered those concerns here.

Speaking on the House floor, Mahan said he voted for the law that created Indiana’s Choice Scholarship program but understands that some in his community and across the state don’t support it.

“Pre-K is a big issue. Vouchers is a big issue,” he said, adding that he would support the bill’s passage out of the house. “This is an issue that should have been stranded alone for what they represent.”

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, also voted yes but said she would vote against the bill if it it returns from the Senate without the voucher link removed.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, asked his colleagues to vote down the bill and instead support Senate Bill 276 to expand preschool because it does not include voucher ties.

The House bill passed 61-34. The proposal now heads to the Senate.

Bill To Appoint, Not Elect, Top Education Official Moves Forward

The Indiana Statehouse. (Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

A bill that would remove Indiana’s top education official as an elected position is progressing through the Statehouse. The bill, authored by Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) would allow the governor to appoint the superintendent of public instruction starting in 2021.

It passed out of committee Monday on a 5-to-3 vote.

“Ultimately it’s the governor that’s responsible for education,” Buck says. “This just puts all of that responsibility on him or her.”

Indiana is one of 13 states to elect its top education official. Proponents say this bill could remove many of the politics that have long plagued Indiana education.

During former-Gov. Mike Pence’s term, the republican governor’s office and the department of education were often at a head. Then-superintendent Glenda Ritz was the only democrat in a statewide elected position.

The political disagreements between the two offices boiled over into Pence restructuring the state board of education to contain more political appointments. The state board of education creates education policy that the department of education is in charge of implementing.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce testified to the committee in support of the bill. They say it would allow the governor and the department of education to stay on the same page.

And that, to others, keeps things political.

“If one party controls every decision, that’s not taking the politics out,” says John O’Neill, with the Indiana State Teachers Association.

O’Neill says it’s bad public policy to take a decision out of hand of voters and give more power to the governor.

“I don’t think ramming through policies just because everyone’s agreeing is good for the state,” O’Neil says.

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