Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Brandon Smith

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Democrats Say Lawmakers’ Early Learning Initiatives Should Include Attendance Age

Gov. Mike Pence would like to see more public-private partnerships like the one in Columbus fund pre-K programs.

Senate Democrats want to make lowering Indiana's compulsory attendance one of state lawmakers' early childhood education initiatives this session.

The state’s legislative leaders say an increased emphasis on providing early childhood education will be a key focus of the upcoming session — and Senate Democrats say that focus should include requiring Hoosier children to attend school at a younger age.

Under Indiana law, Hoosier kids don’t have to attend school until they’re 7 years old.  That’s one of the latest mandatory school ages in the country. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, says he was surprised to learn that the age had never been lowered.

“By the time kids reach the age of seven, there’s so much development that should have occurred already,” says Lanane. “It’s crucial that we get the mandatory start age down.” Continue Reading

In Email From Pence’s Education Agency, Ritz Sees Plan To Reduce Her Power

State Supt. Glenda Ritz takes questions from reporters after the July 19, 2013, State Board of Education meeting.

State Supt. Glenda Ritz takes questions from reporters after the July 19 State Board of Education meeting.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz says emails from Governor Pence’s new education agency reveal an attempt to oust her as chairwoman of the State Board of Education. But Pence administration officials say that attempt is going nowhere.

Ritz’s office found the document in an email by an attorney for the Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new government agency created by Governor Mike Pence earlier this year.

The policy document floats the possibility of removing Ritz as head of the State Board. But the document also warns such a move “may have substantial political fallout,” and clarifying the chair’s role might serve the same end.

Ritz says she is committed to maintaining her role on the Board and preserving her authority to, in her words, “protect the voice of the voters” in the face of a plan to “take away authority statutorily given to the Department of Education.”

But the governor’s office says Pence has been very clear that he will not support an attempt to remove Ritz as chairwoman, a point they say Pence made in a private discussion with Ritz last week. Continue Reading

New Session, Same Question: Where’s The Money For Pre-K In Indiana?

Students sing songs with their teacher at Busy Bees Academy, a public preschool in Columbus, Ind.

Students sing songs with their teacher at Busy Bees Academy, a preschool in Columbus.

Here’s one you’ve heard before: Lawmakers of both political parties at the statehouse are pushing to put state dollars behind an early childhood education program.

Yes, pre-K’s back — potentially in the form of legislation that’s “similar to what we had last year,” says House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis.

It’s not clear what form their plans will take this session, but as proposed last January, lawmakers would’ve created a $7 million pilot preschool program for 1,000 low-income students statewide.

But the members of the Senate Education Committee scaled back that proposal significantly, passing legislation instead that focused on rating child care programs. The hangup on a pre-K bill this year could potentially be the same: cost.

“Everybody just keeps saying, ‘We want pre-K,’ and I’ve never even had an explanation of what services they want or what their objectives would be,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, told StateImpact last week. Continue Reading

Despite GOP Assurances, Dems Predict Move To Curb Superintendent Ritz’s Power

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Indiana Democratic leaders fear lawmakers may push to strip Superintendent Glenda Ritz of some authority in the upcoming legislative session.

Though statehouse Republicans have said such a move is not likely, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath’s prediction comes in the midst of an ongoing conflict between Ritz, the State Board of Education and a new agency created by Governor Pence.

Ritz has criticized what she perceives as a push by the State Board and the newly-created Center for Education and Career Innovation to wrest control over education policy from her department. Continue Reading

Statehouse Republicans Want Indiana Alternative To Common Core Standards

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, left, and Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, co-chaired the interim study committee on the Common Core.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, left, and Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, say statehouse Republicans will send a letter to the State Board of Education recommending Indiana write its own expectations for students.

Indiana’s top Republican lawmakers say it’s time to move on from the Common Core standards initiative and write state-level expectations for students.

House Speaker Brian Bosma called the fight over nationally-crafted education standards known as the Common Core a “distraction” and says it’s time for Indiana to develop its own expectations for students.

“They need to incorporate, be compatible with the ACT and the SAT,” says Bosma. “We can’t ignore those tests despite, no kidding, some legislators telling me, ‘Why do we care?’  And we need to have a test that tests those standards…and it may not be off the shelf.”

Hoosiers have been debating whether to stay the course with the Common Core since state lawmakers voted to pause rollout in the spring. But a legislative panel reviewing the standards couldn’t muster the votes last week to recommend to the State Board that Indiana leave the initiative. Continue Reading

House Speaker Says Lawmakers Will Wade Into Ritz, State Board Spat If Necessary

From left: State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, House Speaker Brian Bosma & State Board Secretary Dan Elsener.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, left, House Speaker Brian Bosma & State Board Secretary Dan Elsener.

State lawmakers could wade into what Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma called a “civil war” between Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education.

Bosma says he’s hopeful the ongoing conflict can be resolved before the legislature has to act but that the General Assembly is willing to step in if necessary. He says he isn’t ruling out legislation that would strip Ritz of her responsibility as chairwoman of State Board.

But he says it’s less likely state lawmakers would try to make her job an appointed position.

“Because it just adds to the appearance that someone is trying to take someone away from an elected official due to political results and that is not the goal,” says Bosma. Continue Reading

Democratic Leader: Investigation Into Former Superintendent Taking Too Long

A screenshot from Florida's public affairs television channel showing Tony Bennett, former Indiana state superintendent, resigning from Florida's top education post Thursday.

Former State Superintendent Tony Bennett resigned from his post in Florida over allegations of wrongdoing in Indiana.

Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath says he sees no sense of urgency from the state Inspector General in the investigation into the school grade changing scandal involving former State Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Reports first surfaced in late July that Bennett altered school accountability letter grades in 2012 after it came to light that an Indianapolis charter school — a favorite of the former schools chief’s team — would have received a mediocre rating. Changing the metrics lifted the grades of 165 schools.

A pair of independent analysts concluded the changes Bennett’s staff made were “plausible.” But Pelath says that report didn’t investigate motive. He says he wants to know why the Inspector General hasn’t provided any answers and when those answers might be coming.

“We heard about statistical modeling, we heard about bureaucratic pressures on the Department of Education, we heard about all the rush to get things done and all the commotion in the particular office,” says Pelath. “But why did they do it? Why did they pick the winner in advance?” Continue Reading

State Board Of Education Begins Strategic Planning Process

State Board of Education member Dan Elsener speaks during a meeting as fellow board member Cari Whicker looks on.

State Board of Education member Dan Elsener speaks during a meeting as fellow board member Cari Whicker looks on.

The Indiana State Board of Education took its first step Wednesday toward developing a strategic plan meant to guide education policy for Indiana.

The State Board created a strategic planning committee last month to spearhead work on the plan. That committee met for the first time Wednesday and unanimously directed board staff to negotiate a contract with the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology, a national education and information technology firm.

Strategic Planning Committee Chair Dan Elsener says one of the most important factors in choosing CELT was the firm’s experience in developing strategic plans for education.

“This is an art and science and they’re really good with data and putting it in a framework that’s understandable,” says Elsener. Continue Reading

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