Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Claire McInerny

Claire McInerny is a reporter/producer for WFIU/WTIU news. She comes to WFIU/WTIU from KCUR in Kansas City. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Kansas where she discovered her passion for public media and the stories it tells. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

  • Email:

Bill To Change State Board And Remove Ritz Passes House

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as chair of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as chair of the State Board of Education. Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana

The House today passed Senate Bill 1, the measure that would change the makeup of the State Board of Education, including removing the state superintendent as chair and letting the board choose its own chair from among its ranks.

The House voted 55-41 to accept the updated version of the bill, which we outlined in detail here.

In addition to removing the state superintendent as chair of the board, it also changes the following aspects of the board:

  • Adds two members to the board.
  • Increases the number of members with education experience from four to six.
  • Gives one board appointment each to the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem. The governor would still have 10 appointments.

Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, sponsored the bill in the House and says despite testimony to the contrary, the bill is not about politics.

“It is strictly about policy and getting the right policy in place,” McMillin says. “What we are considering doing here and what we are discussing here is giving the State Board of Education the opportunity to select their own chairperson and also doing some things differently with the board.”

The bill now goes back to the Senate so they can approve the House amendments. It could be sent to conference committee or if passed again there, it will be voted on by both chambers again before going to the governor to be signed into law.

Legislative Update: State Board Chair And Senate Budget

As the so called “education session” gets closer to an end, the General Assembly is finalizing a number of education bills to send to the governor’s desk. One of the major decisions the legislature is debating is how the state funds school districts. Another is whether to keep Glenda Ritz the head of the state board of education.

StateImpact Indiana’s Claire McInerny appeared on Indiana Newsdesk Friday to give an update on some of the education bills still up for amendments before final passage.

House vs. Senate: A Comparison Of School Funding Formulas

The Senate released its version of the 2015-2017 budget Thursday, with K-12 and higher education receiving a combined 63 percent of state funds. The way the Senate proposes to fund schools differs slightly from the House’s budget, mainly in how it funds low-income students.

(Read more about the Senate’s proposed budget)

To illustrate the differences between the two budgets, we looked at the per pupil amount for a variety of school corporations ranging from rural, urban, low-income and affluent. Hover over the bars in graphs below to see exact amounts:

Here’s a direct comparison between the House and Senate budgets for these school corporations:

Continue Reading

Indiana’s Reputation Post-RFRA Reaches Potential College Students

Universities around Indiana are responding to the religious freedom bill passed last week.

Universities around Indiana are responding to the religious freedom bill passed last week. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act dominated headlines last week and garnered national media attention. In response to the law, corporations, organizations and other state governments announced they wouldn’t work with Indiana if the law remained intact.

The portrayal of Indiana in national media also affected the decisions of a more impressionable group of outsiders: high school seniors from other states considering Indiana colleges and universities.

Almost every day this month, hundreds of prospective students will visit Indiana University’s campus. They either recently committed, or are trying to get one last feel for the university before choosing a school by the May 1 deadline.

Liam Dixon is one of those students taking an April campus tour. He applied to 18 universities and has spent the majority of his senior year at his home in Irvine, Calif. trying to decide which one is the best fit for him. He recently settled on IU.

Liam Dixon, a high school senior from Irvina, Calif., will attend IU-Bloomington this fall. He visited campus for the first time this week, after reading about Indiana's religious freedom law.

Liam Dixon, a high school senior from Irvina, Calif., will attend IU-Bloomington this fall. He visited campus for the first time this week, after reading about Indiana’s religious freedom law. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Around the same time he committed to IU, the news of Indiana’s religious freedom bill reached Dixon in California, where he goes to school with openly gay students and lives in what he calls a very open-minded community.

“I didn’t know how to interpret hearing they were being so close-minded and conservative on this on specific topic,” Dixon says.

Dixon wasn’t the only out-of-state student to question his decision about spending the next four years in Indiana after reading about the law. The Admissions Office at IU received multiple calls and emails from out-of-state students and their families.

“These are families that have developed relationships with us and they’ve visited us many times and they’ve been engaged with us throughout their process,” says Sacha Thieme, Executive Director of Admissions for IU. “They just want to know that the experiences that they’ve had with Indiana University and Bloomington to date are going to be the same experiences they can expect in the future.”

Thieme says although the concurrent timing of the commitment deadline and RFRA was unfortunate, it helped engage prospective families with IU and learn even more about the university.

“We welcome families to ask questions, we welcome students to ask questions, we’re an institution of higher education we invite academic inquiry,” Thieme says.  Continue Reading

House Ed Committee Votes To Keep ISTEP Over National Test

The State Board of Education will meet Friday to discuss this year's ISTEP+.

The State Board of Education will meet Friday to discuss this year\’s ISTEP+.  photo credit: David Hartman (flickr)

The House education committee voted 8-4 today in favor of an amendment that removes language from Senate Bill 566 that would have allowed the state to use a nationally crafted assessment rather than the ISTEP+.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, authored the bill as a cost-saving measure after learning how much it will cost to write a new assessment that matches the state’s new academic standardsa price tag currently set at $134 million.

Kenley’s suggestion of using a national test surfaced back in December, when state superintendent Glenda Ritz presented her budget to the Senate Appropriations Committee. But as the bill passed through the Senate and entered the House, critics emerged saying reverting to a nationally crafted test would be returning Indiana to the education situation it wanted to abandon when it left Common Core.

Michael Cohen, president of the national education consulting group Achieve, worked with Indiana when it pulled out of Common Core and wrote new standards. He testified to the committee today in favor of the amendment, saying dumping ISTEP+ and trying to make a national test fit Indiana’s unique standards could put the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver in jeopardy again.

In response to legislators that suggested taking an off-the-shelf test like NWEA and tweaking the standards to match the test, Cohen said that kind of change is not a tweak, but “major surgery.”

“We’re going to give control of Indiana’s test to a testing company,” Cohen said.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who helped author the amendment, says the test most people suggested replacing ISTEP+ with is NWEA, a test school districts currently use throughout the year leading up to the ISTEP+. The problem with using that test, says Behning, is it’s a completely different type of assessment and wouldn’t comply with state law.

“Reality is they (NWEA) have never created an end of course or summative exam and so Indiana would be venturing into totally uncharted territory,” Behning said.

Behning says the other issue with using an off-the-shelf test is most national tests are Common Core aligned and wouldn’t be able to assess the state’s standards.

The bill now goes to a summer study committee.

Legislative Budget Leaders Continue Push For National Assessment

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and wrote Senate Bill 566.

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and wrote Senate Bill 566. photo credit: Gretchen Frazee / WTIU News

Budget leaders in both the state House and Senate continue to advocate for dumping the ISTEP+ as the state’s assessment and replacing it with a nationally crafted test as a cost saving measure for the state.

As we’ve reported, the State Board of Education is in the process of approving a new test for the 2015-2017 school year. The current price tag from the Department of Administration, who selects bids from testing companies, is $134 million.

But Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, doesn’t want to take the route of creating a new test tailored specifically to Indiana’s standards, which is why he wrote Senate Bill 566.

If signed into law, SB 566 would allow Indiana to use an already created national test in future school years rather than hiring a testing vendor to create the ISTEP+.

Before Indiana chose to leave Common Core standards last year, it was part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which would have provided a national test. But when Indiana left that consortium to write its own standards, the state also had to write a test that tested the new standards. Continue Reading

Senate Committee Dramatically Changes Transformation Zone Bill

The Indiana Statehouse.

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Indiana Department of Administration)

A bill that would have permitted school districts to create “transformation zones” as a remedy for failing schools was gutted in a Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill would have allowed school districts to assemble a group of school and community members to help turnaround schools that receive an F six years in a row under the state’s A-F accountability system. 

During the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday, members approved amendments proposed by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, which eliminated much of the transformation zone language and shifted the focus of the bill.

Shaina Cavazos writes for Chalkbeat Indiana what the bill looks like now:

But the bill now contains no mention of transformation zones and makes sure the Indiana State Board of Education would not be allowed to take control of an entire school district.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said the biggest changes were proposed in amendments by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. When they were included, it changed the entire focus.

“There’s not much left in this bill after this amendment,” Kruse said.

The bill still includes a prohibition against schools offering potential students or their families gifts with a significant monetary value. It also would grant struggling schools a “safe harbor” provision where they could get an extra year to show academic improvement before the state would intervene.

Currently, turnaround schools are paired with a third party partner to help improve student performance, but after an Evansville school district found success with the transformation zone model, other districts wanted a chance to use that model.

The newly amended bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee and then the full Senate. The House approved the original bill last month.

Two Indiana Colleges Create Scholarships For Undocumented Students

Brother Jesus Alonso is an administrator at Holy Cross College in South Bend, and advocates for resources to help undocumented students go to college.

Brother Jesus Alonso is an administrator at Holy Cross College in South Bend, and advocates for resources to help undocumented students go to college. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

One afternoon on his way to work, Juan Constantino’s headlight went out.

“I had no idea,” Constantino recounts. “A cop pulled a U-turn, pulled me over he said, ‘do you know why I pulled you over?’”

If Constantino were like most students, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. He probably would have been let off with a warning and told to get his light fixed. But Constantino isn’t like most students. He’s undocumented and that means he didn’t have a driver’s license.

Constantino was charged with a misdemeanor. His family gathered the money quickly and posted his bail. Constantino went home, finished his homework and went to school the next day.

For undocumented students like Constantino, the threat of deportation is always present, and creates barriers to receiving an education.

For example, paying for college is almost impossible. Without legal status, their parents often work low wage jobs, and without a social security number the student can’t apply for federal loans.­­

Wabash College and Holy Cross College in Indiana are trying to tear down some of those barriers by creating scholarships specifically for undocumented students. Continue Reading

Indiana Universities Speak Out On RFRA

After Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law Thursday, criticism from Indiana residents, local businesses, and a number of national entities descended upon the state. Among those weighing in on the subject are Indiana universities and colleges. Below are portions of statements released by university leaders regarding the law that opponents say would allow legal discrimination particularly against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Purdue President and former governor Mitch Daniels has not commented on the law, and a spokesperson for Daniels said “it is a long-standing policy of our Trustees that institutionally, we are not to take part in public debates of this kind.”

Michael McRobbie, Indiana University President

“For its part, Indiana University remains steadfast in our longstanding commitment to value and respect the benefits of a diverse society. It is a fundamental core value of our culture at Indiana University and one that we cherish. Indeed, in 2014 the trustees of Indiana University reaffirmed our commitment to the achievement of equal opportunity within the university. Continue Reading

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »