Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

A Discussion On Free Community College And The Need In Indiana

President Obama wants to make community college free for all students, an idea he briefly outlined during his State of the Union speech this week. We’ve reported on what this would look like in Indiana and the challenges students already face when trying to navigate the cost and logistics of higher education.

StateImpact Indiana’s Claire McInerny co-hosted Noon Edition, a public affairs program at WFIU Public Radio, and continued this discussion with Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington chancellor Jennie Vaughan and Bloomington High School North guidance counselor Sarah Franklin.

Indiana Can’t Use National Assessment, Like Some Lawmakers Want

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and says funding the 21st Century Scholarship Program is a major goal of his this session.

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and says funding the 21st Century Scholarship Program is a major goal of his this session. photo credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU News

As the 2015 legislative session begins, the “education session” as the governor has called it, there is an influx of bills regarding all levels of education.

There’s one bill regarding K-12 testing, though, that seems to be confusing legislators. Senate Bill 566, authored by Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, seeks to replace “ISTEP program testing with BEST testing program for school years beginning after June 30, 2016.”

BEST is an acronym for Benchmarking Excellence Student Testing and will be the name of whatever test the State Board of Education chooses to replace the ISTEP+.

The bill doesn’t specify what test the SBOE should choose, but Kenley wants to use an off-the-shelf test being used by other states (such as PARCC or Smarter Balanced).

Kenley’s desire to use a nationally-crafted test began in December when state superintendent Glenda Ritz, representing the Department of Education, presented her budget to Kenley and other members of the committee. The DOE’s proposed budget requests $65 million for creating a new state assessment to replace the ISTEP+, an increase of $45 million from last year.

Kenley’s concerns are over the large price tag of hiring a company to write a new test, and at that budget meeting in December he suggested Indiana uses an already existing national test. He asked Ritz at that December meeting, “are we making it too hard on ourselves?”

Using one of these tests would be cheaper and simpler, but not possible for Indiana’s current education landscape. Continue Reading

Is Second Grade Too Early To Take A State Test?

A common complaint among parents today is that their kids take way too many tests.

There are multiple sittings for state assessments, along with college entrance exams in high school – not to mention the unit tests students already take in different classes.

And since the spring of 2011, kids in Indiana have also taken the IREAD 3, an evaluation given as part of a reading deficiency remediation plan. Right now, it’s students in third grade who take that assessment.

Now, one senator has proposed what she sees as a remedy for all the testing. Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, wrote Senate Bill 169, which would move the IREAD assessment to second grade.

Houchin says this will alleviate the stresses of testing for third graders, who take the ISTEP+ for the first time that year, too.

Senate Bill 169 would move the IREAD-3 test from third to second grade. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education/Flickr)

Senate Bill 169 would move the IREAD-3 test from third to second grade. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education/Flickr)

Houchin’s bill only adds to controversy surrounding IREAD-3.

Currently, every third grader has two chances to pass the high-stakes exam. Students who don’t pass on their first try in March are given the chance to pass a retake after a few months of remediation work. Students who don’t pass on second attempt have to retake third grade versions of the ISTEP+ and IREAD exams the following school year.

Some state officials argue this could lead to students being held back from entering fourth grade, despite language in the law establishing the test that calls for holding students back only “as a last resort.”

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Amid Overwhelming Demand, State Ponders Growing Pre-K Pilot

The state’s pre-k pilot program for low-income students is underway in four of the five counties selected to host the program. The fifth county will launch in June.

Before the legislature even approved a pilot program last year, early education advocates touted the benefits of preschool, saying classroom time before kindergarten can improve test scores years down the road.

Indiana officials plan to follow students enrolled in the pre-k pilot for the next several years to determine whether those benefits outweigh the cost to the state.

Just a few days in, some families say they’re already seeing improvements in their children’s learning.

‘Where Learning And Social Interaction Meet’

Four-year-old Datayvian Jackson has only been in the pre-k classroom at Day Early Learning Center in Indianapolis for two weeks now, but he’s already practicing writing his name on a white board.

His letters are still a little shaky, which one of his friends points out.

Datayvian is unphased by the criticism, and he keeps working.

Four-year-old Datayvian Jackson (left) began attending pre-k just two weeks ago.

Four-year-old Datayvian Jackson (left) began attending pre-k just two weeks ago.

This moment, where learning and social interaction meet, is what Day Early Learning administrator Marsha Hearn-Lindsey says is crucial for kids this age.

“One of the things that I think is very important that we often miss in these opportunities is building the social and emotional competencies of children,” she says. “Really helping children know who they are and be able to work in an environment with other children and I think that’s often the piece we miss when children don’t have these opportunities at an early age.”

Before he enrolled in his pre-k class a few weeks ago, Datayvian was at home with his mom, Sarah Jackson. Continue Reading

Don’t Expect Many Surprises In Obama’s State of the Union

Unlike many of his predecessors before him, President Barack Obama has let his hand show in the weeks leading to his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night – so, we’re confident we can fill you in on some of what to expect.

President Barack Obama delivers his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night. (Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

President Barack Obama delivers his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night. (Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

Education issues certainly took center stage in Governor Mike Pence’s annual State of the State address last week. President Obama has said he will lay out details on a few major school-related initiatives, but the topic will be one of many receiving air-time.

This year, the commander in chief tried something new, laying out some of the policies he intends to introduce in his annual address ahead of time, during trips across the country.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, he traveled to Tennessee with Vice President Joe Biden to announce what he called one of the most important proposal he’ll make Tuesday night: a new initiative aimed at making community college tuition free. We’ve already explained this idea in-depth, but here’s a basic rundown:

  • To qualify, a student must maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend school at least halftime, and
  • The president intends to help pay for those through a tax plan that would raise about $200 million over the next ten years.

It’s expected the president will unveil further logistics for the plan in his speech.

Video courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

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Dollars and Sense: What Will Obama’s Education Budget Look Like?

‘Tis the season: budget season.

As Hoosiers wait for the Indiana General Assembly to come out with a finalized state budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, America still awaits a budget proposal from President Barack Obama. Members of the Obama administration have hinted at details of his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, due out sometime next month.

President Barack Obama unveils his 2016 budget request sometime in February. (Photo Credit: mirsasha/Flickr)

President Barack Obama unveils his 2016 budget request sometime in February. (Photo Credit: mirsasha/Flickr)

If history repeats itself, we might expect the president to increase his funding request for the federal Department of Education in 2016. Last year, he requested an appropriation of $68.6 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion from 2014, and almost $3 billion more than in 2013.

Education spending makes up about four percent of the annual national budget, according to the Federal Education Budget Project.

The USED’s elementary and secondary programs serve approximately 50 million students in close to 17,000 school districts annually. Department programs also provide assistance to more than 13 million postsecondary students.

Here in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence named education as one of four main priorities in his recommended budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. K-12 and higher education spending combined would make up about 60 percent of that budget.

As we’ve reported, Pence’s initiatives for Hoosier schools would work toward two larger goals: getting 100,000 more students in B or better schools and achieving a five-fold increase in high schoolers graduating with an industry-recognized credential, both by the year 2020.

How do the governor’s plans for Indiana measure up against the president’s?

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Changing The Timing of School Referenda Could Change Outcomes

Paying for school is a big issue this legislative session. With proposed tweaks to the school funding formula, vouchers, and charter schools taking center stage in multiple budget proposals, among others, it is likely Hoosier schools could see different dollar amounts coming from the statehouse.

Districts could also see a shift in how they supplement that state funding.

A bill facing lawmakers this session could change the rules about when school corporations can propose referendum tax levies to support their general or capital projects funds.

The proposal, written by House Majority Whip David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, suggests requiring school referenda only appear on the ballot during general elections. Right now, they can come up in May or November.

With the implementation of property tax caps in 2008, districts have increasingly turned to referenda to finance school projects. (Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr)

With the implementation of property tax caps in 2008, districts have increasingly turned to referenda to finance school projects. (Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Over the last five years or so, Hoosiers may have heard the word “referendum” more than they ever had before. In particular, school districts have been asking voters to consider raising their own property taxes more often.

Ever since lawmakers implemented property tax caps in 2008, the portion of tax money that could be distributed to school corporations has shrunk, causing this change in the way Indiana funds its public schools. Now, when a district experiences a revenue shortfall, it has become more common to pursue financing through a referendum.

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Will Lawmakers Allow 13 More Counties Into the Pre-K Pilot?

The first phase of the On My Way Pre-K program has only just begun, and lawmakers are already tossing around the idea of expanding the initiative.

A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Legislators in the state senate and house will each consider a bill this session that proposes widening the field of participating counties.

You may remember that after Gov. Mike Pence signed the program into law, interested communities submitted applications to the Family and Social Services Administration. The agency chose 18 finalists in June, later whittling the field down to the five current participants – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

Among those not selected: Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Kosciusko, Lawrence, Madison, Noble, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vigo and Wayne counties.

Both Senate Bill 344 and House Bill 1129 recommend extending the pilot to include those 13 counties.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, represents a district that is already part of the program, but says she wants to share the enthusiasm she sees in her district statewide.

“With some additional dollars and some additional counties involved, we might be able to spread that excitement for early childhood education,” Rogers says.

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Can Free Tuition Change Students’ Attitudes About College?

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it's a good opportunity for a national conversation.

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it’s a good opportunity for a national conversation. (photo credit: Ivy Tech Community College)

Leading up to his State of Union address later this month, President Obama announced last week he wants to make community college tuition free to encourage more people to get education beyond high school.

It’s a goal many people can get behind, but advocates in Indiana are more excited about the national platform for the conversation than the president’s proposal.

High School Education Is ‘Not Enough’

President Obama said his new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in America is the most important proposal of his State of the Union address he’ll give Jan. 20.

“I want to bring it down to zero,” he said in his announcement.

The plan says if a student maintains a 2.5 GPA while attending community college at least halftime, they wont pay any tuition.

And while the logistics of how to pay for this plan — and whether Congress will even pass it — are still unknown, higher education advocates are thrilled the White House recognizes something they’ve know for a long time.

“An education that stops at high school is not enough for today’s world,” Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder says. Continue Reading

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