Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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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: clmciner@indiana.edu

Mailbag: Reactions To Recent School Choice Coverage

Mailbag Long LogoIt’s been a while since StateImpact did a Mailbag post, where we showcase reader comments and reactions to our stories – but that doesn’t mean we aren’t always reading your feedback.

We’ve recently done a few stories reporting on school choice in Indiana, and many of you shared your thoughts with us.

In a story looking at the state’s voucher use since it started five years ago, we looked at the original intention of the voucher program and how it’s changed after four years:

To understand the state’s school voucher program, officially called the Choice Scholarship Program, you have to sift through a lot of numbers. A good place to start: enrollment.

“Well it’s grown quite a bit, the number of students using the choice scholarship program increased a lot year over year, there’s no question about that,” says Chad Timmerman, education policy adviser to Gov. Mike Pence.

During the 2011-12 school year – the first year for the Choice Scholarship program – around 4,000 students enrolled. Last year, it was almost 30,000.

“Obviously with the doubling of students or whatever magnitude we’re growing, you’re obviously going to spend more on vouchers,” Timmerman says.

After reading the story many of you took to social media to share your thoughts on the program and how its changed:

Cindi Pastore shared her thoughts on Facebook:

I’m not sure why no one ever sees the flaws in this privatization plan- once you starve the public schools to the point where they have to close or at best can only afford to give children minimal service- WHO exactly is going to educate the children who private and charter schools refuse to serve? Is it that you can’t see this or is it because you don’t care? 40 million dollars are being rerouted awAy from the most needy and to for profits- why doesn’t this bother you?

Rachelle Ruge-Bernard commented on our Facebook:

They made it a business

Keep interacting with us about our work and the topics we’re covering, we love to know what you’re thinking and it often helps drive our reporting.

Dual Language Pilot Program Available To Schools

The State Board of Education approved Wednesday a dual language immersion pilot program for schools.

The State Board of Education approved Wednesday a dual language immersion pilot program for schools. (photo credit: sylvar/flickr)

Legislation passed by the 2015 General Assembly allowed the State Board of Education Wednesday to approve a dual language immersion pilot program that will award grants to Indiana schools wishing to create or expand a dual language immersion program.

Currently, there are four such program available in Indiana.

This pilot program provides a maximum of $500,000 each for fiscal years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 to help interested schools create capacity for such programs.

The maximum amount of money a school can receive each year is $100,000.

The languages taught under the program are specified, just need to be approved by the Department of Education, but they must start in kindergarten or first grade and classroom instruction should be divided evenly between English and the foreign language.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz says she hopes interested schools will apply to get a program off and running, since this type of language instruction is more difficult to administer than other courses.

“It’s not the same as having a teacher teach a course on another language,” Ritz says. “It is actually immersion within one language and having your instruction in that language 50 percent of the time so it takes quite a bit of planning, dedication, and conversation with consultants to make sure you get that right.”

Caterina Blitzer, the Global Learning and World Languages Specialist for the IDOE, says the grant money will likely be used on a salary for a qualified teacher and professional development for staff involved in the program.

Deadline for the program is July 24, and the grant application can be found here.

5 Years Later, State School Choice Looks Dramatically Different

Five years ago the General Assembly created a school choice program to help low-income students get out of failing schools. Today more middle class families and students who never attended public schools are using the vouchers.

Five years ago, the General Assembly created a school choice program to help low-income students get out of failing schools. Today, more middle class families and students who never attended public schools are using the vouchers. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Private schools are experiencing a surge in enrollment, in large part because of the state’s expanding voucher program. 

When the program first passed in 2011, supporters said funding private school tuition would give poor kids in failing schools options to get a better education.

But a new report shows that as the program enters its fifth year, the cost to taxpayers and students has changed dramatically.

Indiana’s School Choice Program, From The Beginning

To understand the state’s school voucher program, officially called the Choice Scholarship Program, you have to sift through a lot of numbers. A good place to start: enrollment.

“Well it’s grown quite a bit, the number of students using the choice scholarship program increased a lot year over year, there’s no question about that,” says Chad Timmerman, education policy adviser to Gov. Mike Pence.

During the 2011-12 school year – the first year for the Choice Scholarship program – around 4,000 students enrolled. Last year, it was almost 30,000.

“Obviously with the doubling of students or whatever magnitude we’re growing, you’re obviously going to spend more on vouchers,” Timmerman says.

On paper, it costs less for the state to partially fund a child’s private school tuition than fully fund their education at a public school. During the first two years of the program, Indiana actually saved money with the program.

Fast-forward to this year: according to the Department of Education’s updated school choice report released in June, $40 million from the school funding formula is going toward vouchers. That’s because the eligibility requirements have changed. Families that weren’t eligible at the launch of the program four years ago now qualify for substantial subsidies.

During a speech on C-SPAN after the voucher law passed the Indiana General Assembly in 2011, former Gov. Mitch Daniels explained the purpose of the program was to include public schools into the school choice program.

“The family will only be eligible if the child has spent at least two semesters in a public school,” Daniels said.

The original law mandated families try public schools before getting a voucher for private school.

“In other words, if the public school delivers and succeeds, no one will seek, will exercise this choice,” Daniels said.  Continue Reading

State Voucher Program Growing Exponentially In Some Districts

The number of students enrolled in the state-funded voucher program that allows them to attend private schools is growing exponentially, according to an updated report released from the Department of Education last week.

Here’s a look at where the most students are using vouchers, according to their school corporation of legal settlement, or what district they would be part of if they went to public school:

One look at the data makes it seem as though students are leaving their public schools in droves to use state money to attend private school, but there’s more to the numbers than that. As more scholarships became available, the eligibility for students who get them also changed.

The program’s original intention was to award vouchers to students attending failing schools, but data shows the number students using the vouchers who never attended a public school grew.

During the 2011-2012 school year — the first year vouchers were available — around 10 percent of students using vouchers never attended an Indiana public school. In the 2014-2015 school year, that number jumped to 50 percent.

Krista Stockman, spokesperson for Fort Wayne Community Schools, says changing the qualification requirements goes against one of the main goals of school vouchers.

“It was originally billed as a way for families to escape failing schools,” Stockman says. “But if you look at even that pathway, there are very, very few students who were actually in an F-rated school who use a voucher.”

Last year only 2 percent of students using a voucher came from a failing school.

Although thousands of students in the Fort Wayne district aren’t attending the public schools because of vouchers, Stockman says it isn’t dramatically hurting their enrollment. Because more students aren’t attending public school first, Fort Wayne schools never even saw those kids.

The year vouchers first became available, enrollment in FWCS was 31,568. Last year it was 30,607, with slight fluctuations in the years in between.

The update to the report found that the voucher program is costing the state $40 million, whereas in previous years there was a surplus.

Gary School District Outlines Plan To Improve Finances

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary (Photo Credit: Indiana Senate Democrats official website)

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary (Photo Credit: Indiana Senate Democrats official website)

Over the last few years the Gary Community School Corporation has faced a loss of state funds and declining enrollment, leading the district to make some tough financial choices when it comes to their schools.

One of the more dramatic instances of this over the last few months was when the State Board of Education voted to close Dunbar-Pulaski middle school, one of the district’s chronically failing schools. This was the first time the SBOE closed a failing school without attempting any turnaround efforts first.

The reasoning behind that decision was because the district couldn’t afford to keep the school open during a turnaround period.

In a guest column in the Northwest Indiana Times, state senator Earline Rogers outlines a new plan the district is taking to address the current financial situation in the district:

The amendment to the state budget I proposed creates a coalition of individuals and groups at both the state and local level. They include financial specialists, local leaders and the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board, the same entity that assisted with Gary’s finances in the past. They will be charged with crafting a plan of action where local officials, School Board members, a financial adviser and the DUAB work together to create the recovery plan for the district.

The first step is a public hearing where there will be a presentation on the district’s current financial status. From there, the DUAB will present the School Board with three suggested financial advisers from which they may choose. If the School Board chooses one of those financial advisers, that person will assist the board with financial and debt management over the course of the next year.

Delay or suspension of payments to the common school fund or interest free loans are recommendations the DUAB can make to the State Board of Finance on behalf of the school corporation. If the School Board does not make a choice from the individuals recommended by the DUAB, it may withdraw from the process altogether.

Rogers also writes that while this plan is specifically designed for the Gary Community Schools, the problem isn’t unique to their community and could be used in any area of the state facing a lack of funds for their schools.

Teachers Will Soon Get A Lesson On LGBTQ Issues From Students

Issac, 16, identifies as a transgender male and attends Owen Valley High School in Spencer. He is part of Prism Youth Community, which is creating a training program for teachers to better interact with LGBTQ students.

Issac, 16, identifies as a transgender male and attends Owen Valley High School in Spencer. He is part of Prism Youth Community, which is creating a training program for teachers to better interact with LGBTQ students. (photo credit: Casey Kuhn / WTIU News)

The emotions of a teenager are not simple to understand. As they move away from childhood and morph into an adult, the confusion invades many aspects of their lives, including their classrooms. For students recognizing their sexual orientation or gender identity, this confusion is intensified. As the students struggle to embrace this part of their life, teachers also struggle to understand the challenges LGBTQ students face.

The Prism Youth Community, a group for LGBTQ youth from seven counties in south-central Indiana, recently received a grant to close that gap by creating a training program for teachers throughout the state, with the hope it will improve the school life for LGBTQ students.

“You Don’t Look Like An Issac”

About a year ago, then-15-year-old Issac decided to join the track team at Owen Valley High School in Spencer. There was only one problem – he didn’t know whether he should join the boys’ or the girls’ team.

“I went to the doctor because you have to get a physical before you can join any sports team and at that physical I asked my nurse practitioner what gender dysphoria was and if she could send me any resources,” Issac says.

The information the nurse gave him catapulted Issac into the realization he identifies as a transgender male. Soon after, he began his transition from female to male.

“I was originally going to join the girls’ track team but after reading those I decided I’m going to come out,” he says. “After that I decided not to join the boys’ track team because it was too much.” 

We’re not using Issac’s last name because other transgender teenagers have been bullied on social media when they’ve spoken out.

In addition to figuring out the right sports team to join, Issac faces a lack of knowledge from teachers and other school staff that make it difficult for him to feel comfortable at school as he moves through his transition. For example, the school won’t change his name on the official roster.

“So I have to re-introduce myself to new teachers and be like, ‘No, my name’s Issac — not my birth name,’ and they say, ‘Well, you don’t look like an Issac,’” he says. Continue Reading

Indiana Voucher Program Cost State $40 Million Last Year

Indiana's voucher system that allows low-income kids to use state funds to attend private schools has put the state in a $40 million deficit.

Indiana’s voucher system that allows low-income kids to use state funds to attend private schools has put the state in a $40 million deficit. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana’s voucher program is costing the state $40 million for the 2014-2015 school year, according to an updated report released Tuesday by the Department of Education. That’s up from $15 million the year before.

The school choice program, started in 2011, left the state with a surplus of around $4 million each year for the first two years, because not as many families were enrolling in the program to use available money. In the years since, the state increased the number of available scholarships, resulting in more money being put into the scholarship program.

As you can see, the number of students using state funds to attend a private school, including religious institutions, has grown dramatically since the first year the money was available, making it the fastest growing voucher program in the country:

2011-12: 3,911 students
2012-13: 9,139 students
2013-14: 19,809 students
2014-15: 29,148 students

Under a state law regarding the scholarship program, if there is money leftover from program (meaning not as many students used the available funds), that money is given back to the public and charter schools, but schools haven’t received any of that excess money since the 2012-2013 school year.

New Pre-K Program To Open In High Need Indy Neighborhood

The number of high quality preschool providers in the state is increasing.

The number of high quality preschool providers in the state is increasing. (Photo Credit: Sonia Hooda/Flickr)

Early Learning Indiana will open a new preschool this fall initially serving up to 80 students, creating more options for parents using On My Way Pre-K and Indianapolis Preschool Scholarship Program scholarships.

The new program will be a Level 3 on the Paths to QUALITY ranking system, which qualifies it for the state- and city-run voucher programs.

The center will be run through Eastern Star Church on the city’s East side, a high need area for pre-k. Currently there are only 10 providers who qualify for the state and city programs, meaning low-income families in the area have few affordable options for high quality preschool.

Jason Kloth oversees the mayor’s pre-k program and says getting more options for families in this area will help widen the reach of these programs.

“In parts of the East side there are higher concentrations of families and children who are living in poverty and who would be, in the absence of the Indy Preschool Scholarship Program, unable to afford the cost of a high quality program, which is why there are fewer options located there,” Kloth says.

Kloth says the overall goals of On My Way Pre-K and the mayor’s program are to improve the communities where they educate students, and the current lack of options on Indianapolis’ East side take that opportunity away from children who live there.  Continue Reading

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