Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Charter School Funding And Approval In Indiana

A hallway in Seven Oaks Charter School. (Brad Davis/WFIU)

A hallway in Seven Oaks Charter School. (Brad Davis/WFIU)

Indiana has a national reputation for encouraging school choice.

Republican vice presidential pick Mike Pence has touted school choice as part of his education record. Certain ratings put the state as the biggest champion of school choice. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of choice and people know it.

It’s a simple idea. Proponents say choice gives families the ability to leave schools they’re unhappy with. Opponents say it destabilizes public education.

In Indiana’s version of school choice, students have the option to attend charter schools.

Charters are on the rise in Indiana — and this is sure to be a topic during the upcoming session — so we took another look at some key issues: funding, accountability, authorizers and discipline.

On our most recent Noon Edition we spoke with Michelle McKeown, the Indiana Charter School Board’s general counsel; Ashlyn Nelson, education policy expert from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Jenny Robinson, a parent advocate for public education.

What unfolds is an open, informed debate about charter schools, their benefits and their drawbacks. Listen here.

Panel Of Educators Plans For New Federal Standards

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state is seeking $4 million in damages from the state's former testing vendor. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled a panel of educators and state education experts to create a plan for accountability under new federal guidelines. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A panel of school leaders and state education experts met for the first time on Monday to map Indiana’s path to compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal government passed ESSA earlier this year, replacing No Child Left Behind.

ESSA requires states submit their plans to meet the new benchmarks. State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled the 15-person panel to create recommendations for this plan.

It includes state goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.

Monday’s meeting focused on establishing goals for graduation rates and student achievement.

The group agreed on a 90 percent graduation rate. It used a federal calculation to establish a reasonable goal. In 2016, 87 percent of Indiana students graduated with a diploma.

“I consider this work to be honing in on how to have schools improve,” Ritz said. “So this helps us to really focus each school on where they are and where they need to go.”

The panel will decided its student achievement goal after the scores from the 2016 ISTEP+ are released.

It will meet three more times this year, and Ritz wants to submit the plan by March 2017.

Five Years Later, Indiana’s Voucher Program Functions Very Differently

Former governor Mitch Daniels (left) oversaw the creation of the state's voucher program. Under the program passed in 2011, students from low income families could receive a voucher and only if they attended a public school for two semesters. Governor Mike Pence advocated for an expansion of the program in 2013, and the General Assembly listened; nowadays, there are seven ways a student can qualify for a voucher and it's available to middle and upper middle class families.

Former governor Mitch Daniels (left) oversaw the creation of the state\’s voucher program. Under the program passed in 2011, students from low income families could receive a voucher and only if they attended a public school for two semesters. Governor Mike Pence advocated for an expansion of the program in 2013, and the General Assembly listened; nowadays, there are seven ways a student can qualify for a voucher and it\’s available to middle and upper middle class families. (photo credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

It’s been five years since Indiana launched its school voucher program, which gives state money to to qualified students to cover private education. It was controversial when passed, and five years later, enrollment has grown exponentially, continuing the criticism.

Since Gov. Mike Pence joined the presidential race as Donald Trump’s running mate, the voucher program in Indiana is now in the national spotlight.

The program has also reached an interesting political point. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the program into law, and it expanded under Pence. Hoosiers will elect a new governor in November, and we don’t know yet how either candidate will address the program.

We wanted to take a look at how the program has evolved and how its outcomes look different than when it started five years ago.

The Birth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program

Back in 2011, former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels saw the passage of the voucher program as a huge victory.

“Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels said at the closing of the 2011 session.

It was the year of huge education reforms in Indiana: the legislature created the state’s A-F system, teacher evaluations were now required and based on student performance, and the voucher program was born.

The program passed in 2011 was based on the classic view of school choice supporters: all students should have access to all educational opportunities – money should not be a barrier.

And back then, a low-income student could get a voucher in two ways: one, if they were already receiving some sort of scholarship from an approved private organization. Two, if they attended a public school for one full school year and wanted to transfer.

In that first year, 7,500 vouchers were available.

“If they tried the public school and believe they are not serving their child well, they will not be forced to continue in those schools just because they don’t have a high enough income,” Daniels said.

And this was controversial from the start because of money. In Indiana public schools, the money follows the student. So if a lot of students use vouchers and go to private schools, the public schools lose money from that child.

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

The Program Expands Under Pence, Enrolling Tens of Thousands Of Students

Voucher Growth in Indiana Since 2011Areas highlighted in red show a higher concentration of school voucher use in Indiana. Blue shows lower use.

 

Five years later, the program enrolls around 3 percent of the student population. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, wrote part of the founding school voucher legislation.

“I guess I look at 33,000 out of 1.1 million students, that’s still a very small percentage in terms of overall choice,” he said.

Critics say this can still hurt districts. For example, 4,500 students living in the Fort Wayne Community School district went to private schools last year.

Once Gov. Mike Pence took office in 2013, the program experienced a dramatic change, putting enrollment in the tens of thousands. In his first State of the State address after being elected, Pence praised the program and encouraged the legislature to expand it.

“Indiana has given parents who previously had few choices the ability to choose the public or private school that best meets the needs of their family,” Pence said.

Three major changes came out of this expansion in 2013.

The first was the financial requirement to get a voucher changed. When the program was first past, a student could receive a voucher if their family income was at 100% of the free-reduced lunch eligibility, around $45,000 a year for a family of four. These students got 90 percent of their private school tuition paid with a voucher.

After the 2013 legislation, the state was now offering a 50 percent scholarship to students from more middle and upper middle class families. The new income requirements now allowed families at the 150 and 200 percent FRL level ($67,000 and $90,000 a year for a family of four, respectively) to get half of their private school tuition paid by the state.

The second major change in 2013 was to the ways a student qualified for a voucher. Previously, a student had to go to a public school for a year or received a scholarship from a specific organization.

Now, they could get a voucher if an older sibling received one, if their assigned public school received an “F” on the state’s accountability system, if they were a special education student or previously received a voucher.

And the third change was the legislature said there was no limit as to how many vouchers the state could give out. If a student qualified, they received the money.

Questions Around The Financial Impact Of Indiana’s Vouchers

Molly Stewart is a research associate at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, and has spent more than a year preparing a report on voucher programs across the United States.

“Mainly we are looking at where is the source of voucher money and where is it going to?” Stewart said.

She questions the money middle class families receive under the 50 percent voucher. She says it’s possible that some of these families would have sent their kids to private schools regardless. But now they qualify for vouchers, so the state is paying for it.

“That to me is money the state is now spending on private education that it was not previously spending on public education,” Stewart said.

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million. But Behning says the program saves the state money overall. Here’s his reasoning: when a child goes to private school, the state covers half or 90 percent of the tuition- depending on the family’s income.

But when the child goes to public school, the state covers instruction costs plus transportation, construction and infrastructure costs.

“There’s no way you can say it won’t cost more,” he said.

Which is true, less money is allocated to a voucher student than a public school student. But Stewart says it’s more complicated.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

The one thing data does support – enrollment in the program is leveling off. Everyone says this is because available space from private schools is dwindling.

How Summer Camp Helps Latino Teens Find Cultural Identity, Boost Mental Health

Campers at Latino Youth Summit work on life-sized self-portraits. The camp , designed for Latino teenagers, was developed to help teenagers navigate their identities and mental health. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Campers at Latino Youth Summit draw life-sized self-portraits. The camp for Latino teenagers helps teenagers navigate their identities and mental health. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

As teenagers struggle to establish a sense of self, there’s an added factor for many Latino teens: straddling two cultural identities.

“They also experience prejudice and discrimination,” said Silvia Bigatti, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at IUPUI. “So that contributes to wondering ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this culture?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this family?’”

This summer, a group of researchers have been trying to help Latino teens battle depression and answer those questions at a one-of-a-kind summer camp.

Latino high school students have a 24 percent higher rate of depression and 65 percent higher rate of suicide attempts compared to their white peers. At the same time, nationally, Latino students are less likely to receive help for mental health problems.

The camp, known as Latino Youth Summit, wants to address this void.

Two Sets Of Cultural Expectations

Jennifer Santana came to the camp during its first session two years ago. Santana’s mom asked her to accompany her little sister, who was struggling with low self-esteem.

Santana didn’t think she’d get anything out of it, but some of the messages she heard stuck with her.

“It’s not what anybody else says about me, it’s not what anybody else thinks of me or what people think about Latinos in general,” Santana said. “As long as I know who I am, I think I’m good.”

This year, Santana graduated high school and returned to the camp to be a mentor to younger students.

Jennifer Santana, center, a counselor at Latino Youth Summit participates in a game with campers and fellow staff. Santana was once a camper who says she benefited from the camp. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Jennifer Santana, center, a counselor at Latino Youth Summit participates in a game with campers and fellow staff. Santana was once a camper who says she benefited from the camp. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Staff like Santana help teens establish that sense of self-identity. Researchers say that the strain of straddling two cultures can lead to more mental health issues.

At home, students ascribe to one set of cultural expectations. At school or with friends, there are separate cultural norms.

According to researcher Bigatti, approximately 35,000 to 39,000 Latino teens live in Marion County. She estimates about 12,000 or almost one in three teens are depressed, and 8,000 or one in five have had suicidal thoughts.

Although the camp aims to help address these mental health issues, there’s no therapy or traditional mental health interventions. Instead, Bigatti said, the camp focuses on creating a strong self-identify through creative outlets.

Channeling Identity Into Art

In the morning session of the camp, teens discuss issues like growing up in two cultures and it’s challenges. In the afternoon, teens participate in music, dance, yoga and art workshops. They’re activities to help the kids talk about self-identity in a creative way.

“What they do is they sit down around the table and talk about the theme of the day and then they do a collage, where they talk about who they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said.

A camper at Latino Youth Summit works on a self portrait. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A camper at Latino Youth Summit works on a self portrait. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

One project the teens work on is a life-size portrait where they depict a version of the person they want to be in the future.

“Some are dressed as soccer player, some are wearing a suit, some are an astronaut, whatever they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said. “As they’re doing it, they’re talking about it and problem solving and saying ‘Sure, I want to be an astronaut but it’s not just going to happen, what do I have to do to get there?’”

And these tactics are working.

In the three years since the camp started, surveys administered by researchers find teens who participate in the camp report having higher self-esteem and the ability to address negative aspects of life months after camp ends.

Helping teens improve their confidence and giving them tools to deal with challenges is important for all aspects of a teenager’s life, especially school.

Campers at Latino Youth Summit. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Campers at Latino Youth Summit. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

‘Latinos Are Important, Hispanics Are Important’

For Santana, she knows she has to pay for college, but rather than looking at that as a barrier to pursuing a degree, she was able to make an attainable plan.

“I chose pharmacy technician as a stepping stone, so I’m going to get my certification,” Santana said. “While I’m working at a pharmacy technician, because it’s one year, I’m going to be studying to do double major for photography and business administration.”

She wants to open a coffee shop while practicing photography. And as she heads into this next phase of life, she feels the camp has prepared her for the challenges and tough challenges ahead.

“I learned here that Latinos are important, Hispanics are important,” Santana said. “So, as far as school comes and adulthood and everything after high school, I feel like I have a voice just like everyone else.”

IPS Restructure Plan: New K-8 and 7-8 Schools, John Marshall Converts To Middle Grades

IPS administrators have proposed expanding James Whitcomb Riley School 43 from a K-6 to a K-8 school. (Indianapolis Public Schools)

IPS administrators have proposed expanding James Whitcomb Riley School 43 from a K-6 to a K-8 school. (Indianapolis Public Schools)

A plan by Indianapolis Public Schools administration to separate middle school grades from high schools could lead to the creation of two new schools and convert the long-struggling John Marshall High School into a stand-alone middle school.

The proposal sets a fall 2017 deadline to decide which district high schools to close because of dwindling enrollment. As recently as last week, IPS officials suggested some schools could be shuttered at end of the current school year.

Instead Superintendent Lewis Ferebee envisions quickly expanding four current K-6 elementary schools up to eighth grade, creating one new 7-8 school and one new K-8 school, in addition to converting John Marshall into a 7-8 school.

Students headed to grades 9-12 at John Marshall for the 2017-18 school year would be relocated to Arlington Community High School. Arlington middle school students would attend the new John Marshall Middle School. Continue Reading

Education Department Requests Additonal $600 Million From Legislature

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: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Department of Education has asked for a $600 million increase in funding from the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year. Officials say the funds are necessary to expand state-funded pre-k for all kids, increase tuition support for all schools and bump up funding for small, rural schools.

The 2017 General Assembly, which convenes in January, will craft a two-year budget. Typically, money allocated for education is over half of the state’s budget.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated statewide pre-K as part of her re-election campaign. Earlier this summer, Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal state funded pre-k in the state as part of the Democratic platform.

Currently, the state pilots a program that gives pre-k scholarships to a limited number of low-income families in five counties. Friday, a group of business and philanthropy leaders as well as Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, publicly asked the legislature to fund pre-k for all low-income families in the state.

The price tag for the DOE’s universal pre-k program is $147 the first year, according to the department. Ritz and Gregg have expressed confidence that the funds are available in the budget.

Another part of the DOE’s budget request focuses on increasing financial assistance to Indiana’s small schools. Statewide, enrollment has decreased in smaller school districts. The state’s current funding closely ties school funding to enrollment, so enrollment drops mean these rural schools receive less money.

“We need to invest in our small schools,” said Ritz, in a statement. “Indiana is a state of communities, and our schools are the heart of many of our smaller communities.  I travel throughout Indiana two to three days a week, and I constantly see small schools, especially in rural communities, struggling to maintain their educational programing.”

The department also wants to expand a tax deduction that is currently only available for families with students in private schools. Currently, parents of private school students are eligible for a tax credit to help offset the cost of textbooks.

Instead Ritz wants a $1,000 tax deduction for all families to help offset the costs of textbooks.

“The parents of children in private schools have received this tax deduction for years,” said Ritz, in a statement. “It is time for middle class Hoosiers to get a tax break as well.”

The 2017 General Assembly convenes in January and will create a budget for the next two years.

IPS Officials To Propose Splitting Middle, High Schools

"My IPS" sign hangs in the school board chambers. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

“My IPS” sign hangs in the school board chambers. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle)

After a week of public meetings at four IPS high schools that could face closure, one student seemed to capture the anxiety and fear of the process.

Broad Ripple’s Jasmine Murphy says closing her school won’t just upend the lives of students but negatively impact teachers, staff and the surrounding community.

“I want to know what is going to happen to us. I don’t want you to be like, oh you are just another statistic, another number,” Murphy says. “I am not just 2-5-0-9-8-5, you know, I am actually a person and I’d like to know what is going to happen. If possible, I’d like to graduate here as the valedictorian which is what I’ve been working all my years for… so if you could tell me. Thank you.”

District officials say they know closing a school is a highly-charged issue, but they see no other options. Keeping middle schoolers, some as young as 11 years old, with high schoolers who can be as old as 19 or 20 is not safe. The basic operations cost of each building is more than a million dollars a year which is too much.

And then there’s enrollment. That’s IPS Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand says once middle grades are shifted to stand-alone middle schools or K-to-8 schools, it will leave each of the city’s high schools at 50 percent or a much lower enrollment capacity.

“Across all eight buildings, too add them up is 15,000 seats and we only have a third of the enrollment to fit in all those buildings,” Legrand says.

And there’s one more factor. Academics are also being reviewed at the schools that face closure: Broad Ripple, John Marshall, George Washington and Northwest.

At Northwest, the junior school has been rated F for four years. The high school is rate D. The graduation rate is 62 percent.

However, football coach Abe Tawfeek, a 1999 graduate of the school, says change is underway thanks to a new principal. Last week students and the football team cheered the coach as he told district leaders just that.

“Two years when I first got here, kids were saying, ‘oh, I hate Northwest, this is the worst school ever,’” Tawfeek says. “But now, we’ve got a lot of school spirit. So obviously we are doing something right.”

IPS administrators will present the school reconfiguration plan 6 p.m. Tuesday at an IPS Board work session at Arlington High School.

State Legislature To Explore Heightened Background Checks For Teachers

Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for Indiana Department of Education, presents at the legislative study committee on education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Risa Regnier, assistant superintendent of school support services for Indiana Department of Education, presents at the legislative study committee on education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)” credit=”

INDIANAPOLIS — State officials say heightened background checks could be a solution to reducing sexual misconduct in Indiana schools.

After a recent string of high-profile sexual misconduct cases involving school staff, state Rep. Robert Behning wants schools to investigate their workforce more often.

He’s asked the legislature to examine the costs of background checks every five years.

“Not just for teachers, but this would be for all school employees that would have any exposure with children,” Behning said.

Currently, Indiana law only requires background checks at time of employment and only for fully licensed educators. Local districts determine how to check the histories of non-licensed staff, including coaches, custodial workers and volunteers.

Education department officials said sexual misconduct could also be reduced if judges get the right to revoke teachers’ licenses when they’re involved in criminal matters.

Kelly Bauder, staff attorney with the Indiana Department of Education, said there’s another loophole to address.

She said prosecutors often neglect to let the department know when teachers are involved in sexual misconduct cases. That notification is required by law.

In a recent USA Today article that examined states’ teacher background check protocol, Indiana received an F.

That grade was largely due to the following reasons: the absence of a statewide protocol, Indiana does not use information from a national teacher database, and the state lacks online information about teacher disciplinary actions.

New Pre K Initiative Will Ask Legislators To Expand Scholarships

Outgoing CEO of Eli Lilly John Lechleiter outlines the need for the access to affordable pre-k in Indiana. Eli Lilly is partnering with several other groups statewide to lobby the 2017 legislature to create pre-k scholarships for low-income families.

Outgoing CEO of Eli Lilly John Lechleiter outlines the need for the access to affordable pre-k in Indiana. Eli Lilly is partnering with several other groups statewide to lobby the 2017 legislature to create pre-k scholarships for low-income families. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)

A coalition of business, philanthropy, government and education leaders say they are determined to push lawmakers to expand state-funded preschool in the upcoming legislative session.

“All IN 4 Pre-K” is a new advocacy group that includes Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, outgoing Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Early Learning Indiana

Lechleiter says the state’s pre-k pilot program is just not enough to meet demand. Only 2,300 families of low income three and four years old in five counties received scholarships in the past two years.

“We believe that families and their children in all of Indiana’s 92 counties should have access to high quality, early learning environments,” Lechleiter said.

The group says they will directly lobby lawmakers to pass new laws in 2017. While no specific legislation has been drafted, they want to see broader income-eligibility requirements for pre-k and elimination of matching funding for counties.

This group will lobby the legislature to provide pre-k scholarships for families that meet certain income guidelines, and not free preschool for all. Universal pre-k in Indiana is something state superintendent Glenda Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg are advocating for.

Currently, the state provides pre-k scholarships for low income families through its pilot program, On My Way Pre-k. The pilot granted scholarships to a few thousand kids in five counties.

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