For nearly eight hours Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee slogged through a dozen bills, including some of the session’s thorniest issues: prayer in school, preschool funding and reducing the current accountability for private schools receiving publicly-funded vouchers.
Senate lawmakers passed five bills out of committee: HB 1004, was amended to mirror the Senate own preschool funding bill; HB 1079, criminal background checks for school staff; HB 1136, extended latch key programs at schools offering preschool; HB 1396, speeds up the teacher licensing for military spouses; and HB 1430, suicide prevention training for teachers.
A Lengthy ISTEP Replacement Discussion
For around three hours, the Senate education committee debated and heard testimony on the ISTEP replacement legislation. House Bill 1003 would set parameters for the State Board of Education to oversee the design of a new statewide exam, likely in 2019.
Superintendent Jennifer McCormick made her first appearance before the committee since her election. Warning of Indiana’s past missteps with designing its own standardized test, McCormick called for using a so-called off-the-shelf test. Experts and lawmakers have argued since last year over how the ISTEP+ replacement should be created.
Another Voucher Discussion
Some of the most contentious debate was over House Bill 1384, legislation that is a smattering of topics, from funding for Dual Language Immersion Pilot Programs to a new way of calculating the graduation rate.
But it also includes a change to when private or religious schools become ineligible to accept publicly-funded vouchers. Currently, a school loses the ability to accept new students after two years consecutive years in the lowest two categories of the A-F accountability system.
Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) is pushing to let a school seek a waiver from the Indiana Board of Education to continue accepting new voucher students if they can show “academic improvement” of students.
Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame supports the bill. The Indiana State Teachers Association argues that the language does not make test scores a benchmark for academic improvement — the standard now used for traditional public schools.
Amendments and a vote on HB 1384 are expected Wednesday.