Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Senate Panel Moves Forward ISTEP Replacement Bill

The legislature is considering a bill that changes the future of the state assessment system.

The legislature is considering a bill that changes the future of the state assessment system. (photo credit: Fort Worth Squatch/flickr)

A bill to overhaul Indiana’s standardized testing system passed out of a Senate committee Wednesday, but some lawmakers say the legislation does little to clear up concerns with over testing.

House Bill 1003 sets up guidelines for a new state test that will replace the ISTEP+ and graduation requirement exams by 2019.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse says the amended bill seeks to fix a few problems, such as reducing the time spent testing and speeding up reporting of scores.

Student’s scores must be reported to the state education board no later than August 15. An earlier version of the bill sought July as the score deadline but testing experts warned against such an early deadline.

The bill also now calls for a “nationally recognized college entrance assessment” to be used for grades 9-12. That means the SAT or ACT testing companies will likely be sought to offer end-of-course assessments in English 10, Biology I and Algebra I.

Kruse says the Department of Education would be required to seek proposals for a new exam to replace the ISTEP+ for grades 3-8. The undefined exam will be called ILEARN, as created by bill author Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis).

The State Board of Education is mandated to make the final choice on a new testing vendor based on department recommendations.

Before the committee voted, Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) said the legislation did not address concerns about students being over tested.

“We still under this bill, as I understand it, are still going to test our kids to death. We are still going to do ISTEP, now we are going to rename it,” he says. “So we’ve done nothing in this bill to help that situation. That’s why I’m voting no.”

The bill passed 7-4 and now heads to the full Senate for a vote next week.

Bill Looks To Help Struggling Gary Schools With Financial Issues






















The financial situation in the Gary Community School District has been dire. It is racking up debt and struggling to meet basic financial responsibilities, like payroll. The district currently has $100 million in debt and an operating deficit of $8.6 million.

A bipartisan bill in the legislature this session aims to improve the situation by creating a new position in the district. Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Merrillville) co-authored the bill with Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville).

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Bill Would Track When Officers Restrain, Seclude Kids At School

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

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

Indiana lawmakers may require schools to provide more information about a controversial practice: secluding and restraining children.

Under state law, physical restraints and seclusion may only be used as a last resort to calm students and never to discipline. The state requires schools to report all uses of seclusion and restraint by school staff. The practices are generally used for students with severe disabilities who have violent outbursts.

A House Education panel voted unanimously Tuesday to add school resource officers to reporting requirements. These officers work in schools but may not be technically employed by the district.

Supporters of the bill say it’s a necessary step to get a true snapshot of the way restraint and seclusion are used.

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Indiana Lawmakers Want Schools To Publicize Union Involvement

Indiana lawmakers are considering a measure which would annually notify teachers of their right to change representation, if union membership drops below 50 percent at a school. (chancadoodle/Flickr)

Indiana lawmakers are considering a measure which would annually notify teachers of their right to change representation, if union membership drops below 50 percent at a school. (chancadoodle/Flickr)

Correction: A previous version of this story said the bill headed back to the Senate, it in fact goes to the governor.

Schools would be required to publicly display the percentage of teachers involved in a union under a Republican-backed measure moving through the Indiana Statehouse.

In cases where union participation falls below a certain amount, the measure would require the state to annually notify teachers they can dispense of or change representation. The bill was approved Monday in a 60-38 vote by the Indiana House of Representatives.

“It’s just information,” says Rep. Gerald Torr (R-Carmel), the bill’s sponsor. “Making it transparent and easy to find.”

Labor unions say it stokes anti-union sentiments in the state. At a hearing last week, representatives from the Indiana State Teachers Association called the measure a “poke in the eye” from Indiana lawmakers trying to clamp down on organized labor. The American Federation of Teachers have also come out against it.

Under Sen. Erin Houchin’s (R-Salem) measure, the percentage of union participation at every school would be available on the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board website.

State officials would notify teachers when union membership drops below 50 percent of all teachers. At that point, they would also inform teachers annually about their ability to change representation under law.

Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) says the bill is unnecessary, transparency is not an issue. He calls it a “cumbersome” political attack.

“This bill is a political attack on the union,” Smith says. “It is for some outside entities who have a business motive, a profit motive.”

Others expressed concerns that the measure interferes with union processes.

“It’s predicated on the assumption that teachers don’t know what’s going on in their schools,” says Rep. Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis). “It’s [the state] putting its thumb on the scale and influencing the process.”

Republicans supporting the bill argue that displaying union membership is about transparency and aiding teachers intimidated by unions.

“I just don’t see the boogie man in this bill,” says Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero).

Opponents say this information is available via public record requests and from district superintendents.

The process for triggering a representation election in a school district is already laid out in law. If 20 percent of school employees want new representation, they may call an election.

Torr, the measure’s sponsor, also carried 2012′s right-to-work legislation. Critics argue this year’s legislation similarly reduces union power. Torr disagrees.

“This is for the teachers in the school,” Torr says. “If they like their representation they will vote to keep it.”

The measure now heads to the governor for final approval.

Bill To Make State Superintendent A Political Appointment Revived

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, left, and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, right. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, left, and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, right. (Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Brodacsting)

A Senate committee approved a controversial bill Monday that would change the Superintendent of Public Instruction from an elected position to an appointed one.

During this General Assembly, both the House and Senate sponsored bills to make the state’s education chief an appointed position. The House passed its version of the bill, but the Senate, in a surprise move the first half of session, voted theirs down.

It seemed the issue would die this year since Senate rules prevent a similar bill from being considered in the same session. But an amendment approved in the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee Monday altered the House bill enough to revive it.

The bill passed the committee 8-4. It now heads to the full Senate. Continue Reading

This Week At The Statehouse: School Prayer, Unions, Student News

Indiana lawmakers eyed bills around prayer in school, union involvement, student journalists and collective bargaining this week. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana lawmakers eyed bills around prayer in school, union involvement, student journalists and collective bargaining this week. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

We’re now firmly in the second half of the 2017 legislative session at the Indiana Statehouse. Indiana lawmakers are busy putting final touches on bills they hope will become law: on topics from preschool to prayer.

It’s a lengthy process (here’s our explainer on how a bill becomes law, making your voice heard and other useful tidbits). At this point, it’s not too late for major changes.

This week, lawmakers debated the merits of prayer in school, publicizing teacher involvement in unions, protections for student journalists and more.

Lawmakers Eye Teachers Unions

Indiana lawmakers are considering a controversial measure that requires publicizing the percentage of teachers who are union members. In cases where union participation falls below a certain amount, teachers would be informed they can get rid of or change representation.

Labor unions say the measure is another “poke in the eye” from Indiana lawmakers who are trying to clamp down on organized labor. The Republican authors behind the bill say that displaying union numbers is about transparency – a defense for teachers who feel bullied by unions.

Leona Glazebrooks, a 20-year social studies teacher in Warren Township, testified against the bill. She says teachers have a right to not to publicize membership in a private organization.

The House education panel approved the measure 7-4 in a party line vote.

Prayer In Schools Bill Draws Controversy

Rules around prayer in school also passed out of the committee this week. The bipartisan House Bill 1024 would require the state attorney general’s office to author example policy about religious expression for schools to follow.

Despite support from both sides of the aisle, Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington) protested the legislation by offering an amendment that would expand the bill to require all schools that accept public funds, including vouchers, to follow the proposed policy. This would include religious schools that are part of the state’s Choice Scholarship program.

“If it is good for public schools, charter schools it would also be necessary for private schools that receive vouchers,” Stoops says.

This amendment was defeated.

Senate To Take Up Student Journalist Protections

Legislation that would offer high school journalists the same legal protections as professional journalists moved closer to law this week.

House Bill 1130 would prevent public K-12 schools from disciplining students for expressing their First Amendment rights in a school-funded publication.

Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) proposed an amendment to let the State Board of Education decide disputes.

“So if there is a conflict between the journalists and the school, the state board would make a final decision to take it out of the hands of the local school,” he says.

The amendment was approved and the bill passed the Senate Education and Workforce Committee 10-0. It now heads to the full Senate.

Collective Bargaining Deadline Extended

In a move supported by the state’s teachers unions, lawmakers advanced a bill that would extend the deadline for collective bargaining until mid-September. Lawmakers and union leaders say it would give teachers and their representatives a more accurate student headcount.

The measure advanced unanimously.

Military Spouses Get Nod

Legislation that would fast-track teacher licenses for a military spouse whose partner is assigned to duty in Indiana is moving steadily through the Statehouse.

House Bill 1396 has garnered unanimous support during the session. It requires the State Board of Education to adopt the rules on how this type of emergency license will be granted. The bill is expected to be signed into law.

ISTEP+, Accountability Bills Still Up In The Air

Next week is the Senate Education and Workforce Committee’s final meeting. Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) said bills that do not pass will be dead for this session. That gives two of the most debated bills one last chance:

  • HB 1003 is the ISTEP+ replacement plan that requires the State Board of Education to oversee design of a new standardized test.
  • HB 1384 would give the state board oversight in deciding if a private school may remain part of the Choice Scholarship program after it’s rated a D or F for two consecutive years. Current law prohibits schools from accepting new students on vouchers after two years of failing grades.

Help us help you! We want to know what you want covered. Have a question or story idea? A specific policy that deserves more explanation? Reach out! Leave a comment or reach reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen at and reporter Claire McInerny at

Indiana Schools Would Lose $56 Million Under Trump Education Budget

Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, calls the proposed federal education budget “a big hit.” (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, says Indiana schools would be affected by the proposed federal education budget. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana schools stand to lose about $56 million for teacher training and after school programs for low-income students, under proposed budget cuts by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, says the proposed budget would be “a big hit” to the state. She says cuts would hamper efforts to attract teachers, stifle new programs under a new federal education law and reduce programs for low-income students.

“Is it concerning? Absolutely,” McCormick says. “We need as much money to flow into our traditional public schools, and our public charter schools that are struggling, [as] we can get there.”

Trump’s proposed budget would slash the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by $9 billion, a 13.5 percent reduction.

It would eliminate funding for two major programs. The first is the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, or Title II funds, which provides money for teacher training retainment. The second is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds after school programs for low-income students.

The Indiana Department of Education is set to receive $55.9 million for the two programs during the 2017-18 school year.

In December, the department awarded nearly $10.3 million to 57 organizations to provide after school programs for students in low-performing and high-poverty schools under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Those organizations provide services from academic tutoring to music, arts, sports and cultural activities.

“Some of those after school programs are a vital part of what we’re doing,” McCormick says. “Just to eliminate it, I don’t think, is the best course of action.”

McCormick says she is also concerned about the move to eliminate funds for teacher training and retainment.

“That would be devastating,” McCormick says. “Many districts use that money now for class size reduction, for professional development, for teacher leadership development.”

She says cuts at the federal level would be exacerbated by “modest” state funding for schools.

“We’re looking at, potentially, a very small increase from the state level budget,” McCormick says. “So that, on top of maybe a significant hit from the federal budget, obviously, is kind of a double edged sword.”

One of the largest unknowns in the Trump administration’s proposed budget is a $1 billion increase for Title I, which provides funding to high-poverty schools. This increase would be dedicated to promoting and increasing school choice for students.

How that would play out for Indiana, the state with the nation’s most robust school choice program, remains “up in the air,” McCormick says. She wants more details.

“Is that to start choice? Is that the sustaining of choice? Is it to provide more choice? – We’re pretty saturated already,” McCormick says. “There are just a lot questions still.”

Prayer In Schools Bill Goes To Full Senate, Closer To Law

State House

Proposed legislation that would require guidelines for religious expression in public schools passed the Senate Education Committee, with an amendment altering the original intent.

House Bill 1024 would protect open prayer and religious dress, writings or other religious expression in schools.

But Sen. Dennis Kruse, (R-Auburn), says it won’t be easy for schools to execute. So he moved to strike Section 5 of the bill — that would’ve given student’s time and a microphone at assemblies or sporting events to discuss their different faith beliefs.

“This is going to be somewhat of a challenge for schools and school corporations to implement but I think it serves a worthy purpose,” Kruse says. “And I think section five pushes them a little too hard in that regard.”

Others sought to expand the bill as a way to arguing against it, including Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington). He urged lawmakers to require all K-12 schools in Indiana that receive public dollars to follow its guidelines, including religious schools.

“If it is good for public schools, charter schools it would also be necessary for private schools that receive vouchers,” Stoops says.

Stoops amendment was struck down.

The bill also requires the state attorney general’s office to author example policy about religious expression that schools can chose to adopt.

HB 1024 passed 8-to-2 and now heads to the full Senate.

The proposal was authored by Rep. John Bartlett (D-Indianapolis). He has maintained that lack of faith by teens and young adults has resulted in many of the problems facing Indiana, such as drug use and killings.

Manufacturing Companies Need More Workers? Look To The Schools

Caleb Pierson looks over a cabinet project he designed for Heartwood Manufacturing. Pierson is a graduate of a program run through Batesville High School, that helps high school students get manufacturing skills while still in high school.  (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Caleb Pierson looks over a cabinet project he designed for Heartwood Manufacturing. Pierson is a graduate of a Batesville High School program that teaches manufacturing skills. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Manufacturing companies all over the state have open positions and can’t find qualified workers to fill them. These jobs require specialized training because the new world of manufacturing requires more technology-based skills. So companies are finding new opportunities to teach them.

The Problem In One Manufacturing Town

Batesville is a town of less than 7,000 people, and half a dozen manufacturing companies employ hundreds of them. But they would like to employ more.

This is a problem Brett Hofer, safety and training coordinator at Batesville Tool and Die, knows well.

“We’d post the positions for some of our technical, trade positions, and it would be really hard to find somebody who had those skills and could come in right away,” Hofer says.

Batesville Tool and Die is a metal stamping company that employs about 400 Batesville residents. Its main products are auto parts, and as technology evolves, its jobs requires more computer skills.

“If they’re having a problem with a part, if something is not to spec, they have to be able to get in there and find out what’s causing this, why is this doing this, and from there making the adjustment to the pieces,” he says.

So leaders at Batesville Tool and Die spearheaded an effort to create more workers to take these positions. They created a feeder system.

“Working with the schools we were able to get the 17-, 18-year-old students start coming in and seeing our facility and potentially getting them a head start in the training for some of our technical trade positions,” Hofer says.

Adding Manufacturing To K-12 Education

This feeder system is a partnership between Batesville High School, the local Ivy Tech campus and a few Batesville manufacturing companies. They created a new program for high school juniors and seniors. Students spend half their days in traditional high school classes and the other half in manufacturing classes at Ivy Tech. Eventually they intern with a local manufacturing company doing entry level work. The hope is that both student and employer will want to continue the working relationship.

That’s exactly what happened with Caleb Pierson and his boss, Joe Meyer.

Meyer and Pierson walk through the wood shop at Heartwood Manufacturing, the company Meyer started and leads as CEO. On the big, loud, assembly floor, employees cut wood on large machines and furniture sits on the floor in various stages of completion.

Pierson shows off a set of cabinets he designed. It will be shipped to a hospital in another part of the state.

“On this job in particular, we went up, we met with the project manager of the hospital, measured all the rooms, they gave us drawings of what they wanted,” Pierson says. “Then me and him designed everything on the computer and designed it.” 

Pierson is 19, and he learned the computer technology he used to design these cabinets in the Batesville High School program.

“Before I was in this program I really had no idea what manufacturing was,” he says. “I probably would have thought it was standing in a dark factory, not moving for 8 hours a day and just moving a part from one conveyer belt to another. I thought it actually sounded pretty boring.”

At the beginning of high school, Pierson thought he wanted to be engineer. But after seeing first hand what manufacturing jobs looked like.

“I realized I didn’t want to be an actual engineer,” he says. “I wanted to do something more along the lines of designing stuff but still being able to do the hands-on stuff,” Pierson says.

Which is exactly what he does now at Heartwood. He interned with the company his last year of high school, and when he graduated, he took a full time job as a designer.

And this is becoming the participating companies’ preferred way of hiring. Meyer, Pierson’s boss, says it’s more effective.

“For us, it’s sort of an extended job interview over a two-year period,” Meyer says. “It’s hard to put a dollar figure on it, but without a program like this we spend a lot of time in the hiring and firing process, trying to determine if someone’s gonna last.”

This is the fifth year of the program, with two graduating cohorts. So far, the school district estimates, of the 10 students who have graduated, 75 percent are employed by manufacturing companies. And they plan to continue offering this opportunity, so students like Pierson and companies like Heartwood can continue to find each other.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I probably would have ended up going to college, because I used to think that’s what you had to do,” Pierson says. “So I would probably be somewhere spending a lot of money on an engineering degree, only to graduate in three years and learn that is not at all what I want to do. So this is saving me a lot of time and money and I know I’m in the right field I want to be in.”

Federal Budget Puts Low-Income College Grants On Chopping Block

Ivy Tech Community College is second in the nation for students using Pell Grants to attend college. (Kyle Stokes/Stateimpact Indiana)

Ivy Tech Community College is second in the nation for students using Pell Grants to attend college. (Kyle Stokes/Stateimpact Indiana)

The newest federal budget presented by President Donald Trump dramatically reduces money for grants designed to help low-income students go to college.

The budget would eliminate the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, money for students with exceptional financial need, and proposes a $3.9 billion reduction in Pell Grants, the primary federal college grant program.

Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College system, the nation’s largest statewide community college system, ranks second in the nation for Pell Grant recipients. In the system, 30,766 students receive over $57 million in Pell Grants.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) opposes the cuts.

“Destroying the Pell Grant program is one of the worst ideas you could possibly have,” Donnelly says. “Pell Grant hits right in the sweet spot of working families who are looking to figure out ‘How can I get my kids an education?’”

The Pell Grant program is the largest federal grant program for undergraduate students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The program annually provides qualifying students with up to $5,920 for college. Students whose family income is $50,000 a year or less can qualify.

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