Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

ISTA Advocates For Collective Bargaining Before End Of Session

Teachers unions are pushing to collectively bargain bonuses for teachers included in Senate Bill 566.

Teachers unions are pushing to collectively bargain bonuses for teachers included in Senate Bill 566. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Legislation coming out of this year’s General Assembly could change a lot for the day to day operations of schools, with the funding formula changing and a variety of structural changes proposed for the State Board of Education, and one thing teachers are keeping a close eye on: their collective bargaining rights for new bonuses.

In Senate Bill 566, a comprehensive education bill, one section addresses giving teachers with master’s degrees bonuses.

The current bill says a teacher is eligible for these bonuses if he or she “has earned a master’s degree from an accredited postsecondary educational institution in a content area directly related to the subject matter of a dual credit course; or another course taught by the teacher.”

It’s legislation that rewards teachers for continuing their education, according to Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, and makes them role models as lifelong learners to their students.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith says while her organization is pleased to see the legislature rewarding qualified teachers, limiting the bonuses to these parameters leaves out a whole group of teachers.

“We thought it should be a little bit broader because for example, in elementary classrooms if you have a master’s degree you might not have a content area, you might have a master’s in education.”

And according to the legislation, the degree must be related to a specific subject area. Meredith and other members of the ISTA are working with legislators to broaden that criteria to any education related degree.

Brown says he and others on the conference committee are working to change that language to address concerns raised by ISTA.

“The bill does not prohibit elementary teachers,” Brown says. “We hope we’ll clarify the language as we move toward a conference committee report.”

The legislation doesn’t allow the teachers and schools receiving this bonus pay to negotiate it like base salaries, which is a huge problem for Meredith, who says any sort of compensation for teachers should be subject to collective bargaining.

Another reason Meredith says teachers should be able to bargain with these bonuses is to make sure the money is awarded to teachers fairly, and not in a subjective manner from administrators.

“We really want a way to be able to bargain it so we can set parameters and that everyone knows what the rules are,” she says. “Everybody knows what you have to do to qualify or to get whatever it is that’s being offered.”

Brown says the reason the legislation currently prohibits collective bargaining on these bonuses is to give the local administrators and school boards the control to reward teachers that perform well and receive additional education.

SB566 is still being worked on in conference committee, and will be finalized by the end of the session Wednesday.

State Board Bill Will Address Access To Data

State superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as the chair of the State Board of Education, but if Senate Bill 1 goes forward that would no longer be the case. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as the chair of the State Board of Education, but if Senate Bill 1 goes forward that would no longer be the case. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Among the complaints State Board of Education members repeatedly lodge toward state superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education is access to certain data sets. The legislature is seeking to address that in the final days of the 2015 session.

A conference committee for Senate Bill 1 has not yet been scheduled, but legislative leaders say it will be one of the last bills finalized, as they are still working on it.

At the beginning of the session, the SBOE included data sharing as one of its legislative priorities. Board member Brad Oliver says the board currently doesn’t get full access from the IDOE to data sets like A-F grades. Senate President Pro Tem David Long says it’s this issue he and his colleagues are trying to address in SB 1.

“We’re trying to figure out a way where that information exchange at all levels is improved, and that’s the big holistic fix we’re looking at right now,” Long says. “And it’s being made after a lot of conversations – that includes with the department. We’re not pointing fingers, we’re just saying let’s fix this and fix it right.”

Oliver says the IDOE cites the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as reason for not disclosing certain information. House Speaker Brian Bosma says to make sure board members get access to all data, the legislature might try to establish the board as a “state education agency,” therefore qualifying the group to see that data.

“The State Board of Education does not fall within the current parameters for a state education agency, and that’s the stumbling block on them receiving some information,” says Speaker of the House Brian Bosma. “It’s very easy to establish them as a state education agency by statute. We’re again just trying to remove roadblocks as they crop up.”

A conference committee will be scheduled to finalize language over data sharing before next Wednesday, when the legislative session ends.

A Recap Of Senate Bill 1 And The Future Of The SBOE

State superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as the chair of the State Board of Education, but if Senate Bill 1 goes forward that would no longer be the case.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as the chair of the State Board of Education, but if Senate Bill 1 goes forward that would no longer be the case. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

One of the more controversial education bills moving through the General Assembly this session is Senate Bill 1, which changes the State Board of Education, including removing the state superintendent as the chair.

After passing both the House and Senate, the bill will likely go to conference committee before being signed into law by the governor, so we at StateImpact thought it would be a good time to review what the chair of the SBOE does and how this bill would change the current board.

The Current State Board of Education

Current law allows for 11 board members, which includes the elected state superintendent and ten other members the governor appoints. Four of those members must currently work as educators and have a teaching license. And most important, the law says the state superintendent serves as the chair of the board.

The chair runs the meetings, calls on people to speak, calls for votes on motions, and sets the agenda. It’s very much an administrative role for the group, but it’s these duties that state superintendent Glenda Ritz performs that have started so much conflict with the current board.

Ever since she took office, we’ve seen Ritz and the other board members disagree on when an agenda was set or what was on the agenda. They often argue about communication between the two entities, because Ritz and the Department of Education have a separate staff from the state board members. Board member Brad Oliver has been very vocal about the issues he has with how Ritz currently runs the board.

“The thing that I’ve not been accustomed to is in most boards I’m on, the chair will go out of their way to make contact with individual board members to cultivate those relationships, to sit down periodically and talk about what is coming before the board typically,” Oliver says. “For reasons that are well documented, when CECI was created and other things that happened, we’ve gone further away from that. There’s very little communication between the chair and individual board members.”

Senate Bill 1 is the legislature’s attempt to address these issues. Continue Reading

Elections: More School Districts Will Seek Multiple Referenda

April 15 may have just passed, but it’s nearly time to think about taxes once again.

Spring elections are just two weeks away, and that means schools will look to their local communities for help covering a wide range of expenses – from building renovations to transportation and maintenance costs.

Eighteen school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

Eighteen school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

Referenda have become increasingly more common as a method to fund public schools since 2008, when lawmakers implemented property tax caps. Since then, the portion of tax money that could be distributed to school corporations has shrunk.

Thirteen Indiana school districts will ask for 18 separate tax levy increases on the ballot May 5. Brownsburg, Perry Township, Beech Grove and Valparaiso are each asking voters to approve two questions – one construction project and one school tax levy.

Here’s a list of referenda that will appear on various local ballots May 5:

Construction referenda

  • Brownsburg Community Schools will ask for 41.17 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to pay for the construction of a new elementary school, in addition to renovation and improvements to the area high school. The district estimates upgrades will cost no more than $95 million.
  • Community Schools of Frankfort is asking for 42 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for $30 million to renovate Frankfort High School. The project has been in the works for awhile, according to the Clinton County Daily News.

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What’s Left In The ‘Education Session?’

It has been a busy few months for Indiana lawmakers, but they are finally hurdling toward the end of their annual legislative session.

As the “education session” draws to a close, a number of crucial measures remain on the table, including testing, the state’s biennial budget and a controversial bill that could shift power on the State Board of Education.

Take a brief look at some of the biggest school-related bills still up for passage:

Sen. Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville (left) and House Ways & Means Chair Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville (right).

Sen. Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville (left) and House Ways & Means Chair Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville (right).

  • HB 1001: The state’s two-year budget. The most important education element contained within: Indiana’s school funding formula. The future of the Education Roundtable could also be at stake. As expected, it will be up to a conference committee – including both budget architects (Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, and Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville) – to craft final language.
  • HB 1009: This is a tricky one. The measure originally started off as a bill establishing Gov. Mike Pence’s “Freedom to Teach” initiative – a grant program to fund designated districts, schools and teachers. As it currently stands, the bill now calls for a replacement of the current statewide ISTEP+ with a nationally crafted test. Why such a drastic change? Sen. Kenley had a different ISTEP+ bill on the books early on in the session (see SB 566 below) – after that effort fell through, he used his seat as Senate Appropriations chair to rewrite this bill to include his testing language.

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New Campaign Aims To Give College Students Intern Experience

A national survey of college students and hiring managers shows 80 percent of employers want new hires to have completed an internship – but only eight percent of students say they’ve invested time in those opportunities.

The Commission for Higher Education launched an initiative Monday aimed at improving Indiana’s talent pipeline.

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

In the new campaign – dubbed Career Ready Indiana – the Commission will act as a link between businesses, schools and students looking to establish or boost internship and so-called “work-and-learn experiences.”  Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers says ensuring more high school and college students get time in the workplace can help stem a growing problem.

“We know – and recent surveys show – that about 50 percent of college graduates would actually have a different degree if they were going back to college now,” Lubbers says.

Nick Hoagland is the Chief Operating Officer of the Indianapolis logistics firm Backhaul Direct. His company has spent the last three years investing in an internship program and he says it helps the business as much as the student.

“We not only get to view their skills in action but we also get to immerse them in our culture, which is key to fitting the person with the business,” Hoagland says.

Lubbers says the state also helps financial aid students by giving companies money to provide paid internships.

Study: No Academic Difference For Voucher Students

New research is adding fuel to one of the most heated debates on Indiana’s modern education scene.

A new study released Thursday suggests no measurable difference between students using school vouchers and their peers studying in public schools.

A new report finds statistical differences in academic outcomes for Indiana students using school vouchers versus their public school counterparts. (Photo Credit: chancadoodle/Flickr)

A new report finds statistical differences in academic outcomes for Indiana students using school vouchers versus their public school counterparts. (Photo Credit: chancadoodle/Flickr)

According to a report from the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, school choice in Indiana is “designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools, with little evidence that demonstrates improved academic achievement for students who are most at risk.” The study compared Indiana’s program with those in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. – some of the oldest voucher programs in the country – where they say they found similar results.

CTBA researchers say their findings indicate “no compelling reason to subsidize Indiana school vouchers with public taxpayer dollars.”

Indiana has one of the biggest school voucher programs in the country, with close to 30,000 participants receiving public funds to attend private schools.

School vouchers are an important part of Gov. Mike Pence’s education vision. He responded to the report Thursday saying he disagreed with its conclusions, calling school vouchers an “all of the above strategy.”

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Additional Grants To Fund 600 More On My Way Pre-K Spots

Despite contention in many areas of Hoosier education these days, support continues on all sides for making early education a priority throughout Indiana.

Gov. Mike Pence (right) greets Early Learning Indiana CEO Ted Maple (second from left) and Melanie Brizzi of the FSSA (second from right) at Wayne Township Preschool Thursday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Gov. Mike Pence (right) greets Early Learning Indiana CEO Ted Maple (second from left) and Melanie Brizzi of the FSSA (second from right) at Wayne Township Preschool Thursday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

During an event at Wayne Township Preschool in Indianapolis, Gov. Mike Pence announced today the addition of nearly 600 spots for low-income four-year-olds in the fall launch of On My Way Pre-K, the state’s first pre-k pilot program.

Extra spots will be distributed proportionally among the five participating counties – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh. This will allow local providers to serve approximately 2000 kids during the full launch of the program in August.

“On My Way Pre-K is off to a great start,” Pence told parents and business partners Thursday. “These grants will offer more low-income students the chance to learn and grow in a high-quality pre-K program.”

The increased space comes as a result of additional capacity-building grants totaling more than $435,000 for early learning providers around the state. Organizations including Early Learning Indiana, United Way of Central Indiana and the Lilly Endowment Inc. provided money to fund the grants. The state also contributed funds to the effort.

450 children received grants to participate in the January launch in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. Jackson County will get its program up in time to join the rest of the group for the full fall launch.

Families can apply on the FSSA website until the April 30 deadline.

School Closing Forces Gary Community To Look For Solutions

“Everybody wants to pick on poor, little Gary, Indiana.”

Robert Crawford is a lifelong Gary resident. He attended classes in the Gary Community School Corporation when he was a kid – roaming some of the same hallways that his sixth grade daughter now frequents.

But the school district looks a lot different now than it did in Crawford’s day.

Dunbar-Pulaski Academic & Career Academy, Gary, Indiana (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Dunbar-Pulaski Academic & Career Academy, Gary, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Many people say it’s smaller: total student enrollment sits at just over 7,500, and has shrunk every year in the last half-decade, according to state Department of Education data. That’s indicative of a larger trend in the city – an exodus of many families and businesses that has left close to 9,000 buildings abandoned.

And there’s an even bigger change to come. During their March meeting, members of the State Board of Education voted to close Dunbar-Pulaski, GCSC’s citywide middle school,  a change many see as imposed on – rather than earned by – a district that has struggled with financial issues and low test scores for years.

As school leaders work to make the move smooth for local students, community members and parents like Crawford are making their own suggestions to to help shape the district’s future.

“I’m all for change when it’s time to change,” Crawford says. “It takes a community to succeed.”

‘This Took Six Years’

This is the first time in the history of the state board that members have voted to close a school without first attempting an intervention strategy.

According to current state law, the board has the ability to take over any school earning a ‘D’ or ‘F’ on the state’s A-F grading scale for six consecutive years.

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