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.
A student paints on an easel at Day Early Learning in Indianapolis. This preschool is run by Early Learning Indiana, which is advocating for state funded pre-k for low income families. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
In the landscape of Indiana education politics, it’s rare to find a topic people on opposite political and ideological sides agree on. But over the last few years, one such topic has come forward: affordable pre-k.
Most of the people working toward this goal agree the state should offer funding to make that possible. But opinions diverge there, over how much funding and who should qualify.
Some believe every child in the state should attend pre-k on the state’s dime, others think we should focus on low-income families.
And this discussion is in the public spotlight now, with the upcoming election and the 2017 General Assembly determining a new two year budget.
Why make pre-k more affordable?
The reason everyone agrees pre-k should be a priority is because research shows kids who attend a high quality preschool do dramatically better in school later on than kids who do not.
A report published this month by the Brookings Institution studied the Head Start program. It found kids who attended the federally funded pre-k program were more likely to graduate from high school, attend college or complete some sort of post-secondary program.
In response to the number of these studies endorsing the importance of pre-k, 42 states and the District of Columbia established state funded programs to get more kids into pre-k classrooms.
For many years, Indiana was one of eight states without a state funded preschool program, which changed in 2014.
Pre-K Pilot Program Put Indiana On The Map
The 2014 General Assembly changed Indiana’s status as one of a handful of states without a state funded program. Governor Mike Pence championed the pilot program, called On My Way Pre-k, which gave scholarships to low income families in five counties in Indiana.
The National Institute for Early Education Research maps out how many four-year-olds are served under state programs across the country. When their 2015 Yearbook was published, Indiana had just launched the pilot program, and isn’t reflected in this map (photo credit: National Institute for Early Education Research, 2015 Yearbook).
The counties included in the pilot program are Allen, Vanderburgh, Lake, Marion and Jackson. They were chosen to be representative of the state. Some are rural, some are urban, they are meant to represent a range and measure On My Way Pre-k’s ability to succeed in different communities across the state. Continue Reading →
State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled a panel of educators and state education experts to create a plan for accountability under new federal guidelines. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
A panel of school leaders and state education experts met for the first time on Monday to map Indiana’s path to compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal government passed ESSA earlier this year, replacing No Child Left Behind.
ESSA requires states submit their plans to meet the new benchmarks. State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled the 15-person panel to create recommendations for this plan.
It includes state goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.
Monday’s meeting focused on establishing goals for graduation rates and student achievement.
The group agreed on a 90 percent graduation rate. It used a federal calculation to establish a reasonable goal. In 2016, 87 percent of Indiana students graduated with a diploma.
“I consider this work to be honing in on how to have schools improve,” Ritz said. “So this helps us to really focus each school on where they are and where they need to go.”
The panel will decided its student achievement goal after the scores from the 2016 ISTEP+ are released.
It will meet three more times this year, and Ritz wants to submit the plan by March 2017.
Former governor Mitch Daniels (left) oversaw the creation of the state\’s voucher program. Under the program passed in 2011, students from low income families could receive a voucher and only if they attended a public school for two semesters. Governor Mike Pence advocated for an expansion of the program in 2013, and the General Assembly listened; nowadays, there are seven ways a student can qualify for a voucher and it\’s available to middle and upper middle class families. (photo credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
It’s been five years since Indiana launched its school voucher program, which gives state money to to qualified students to cover private education. It was controversial when passed, and five years later, enrollment has grown exponentially, continuing the criticism.
Since Gov. Mike Pence joined the presidential race as Donald Trump’s running mate, the voucher program in Indiana is now in the national spotlight.
The program has also reached an interesting political point. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the program into law, and it expanded under Pence. Hoosiers will elect a new governor in November, and we don’t know yet how either candidate will address the program.
We wanted to take a look at how the program has evolved and how its outcomes look different than when it started five years ago.
The Birth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
Back in 2011, former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels saw the passage of the voucher program as a huge victory.
“Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels said at the closing of the 2011 session.
It was the year of huge education reforms in Indiana: the legislature created the state’s A-F system, teacher evaluations were now required and based on student performance, and the voucher program was born.
The program passed in 2011 was based on the classic view of school choice supporters: all students should have access to all educational opportunities – money should not be a barrier.
And back then, a low-income student could get a voucher in two ways: one, if they were already receiving some sort of scholarship from an approved private organization. Two, if they attended a public school for one full school year and wanted to transfer.
In that first year, 7,500 vouchers were available.
“If they tried the public school and believe they are not serving their child well, they will not be forced to continue in those schools just because they don’t have a high enough income,” Daniels said.
And this was controversial from the start because of money. In Indiana public schools, the money follows the student. So if a lot of students use vouchers and go to private schools, the public schools lose money from that child.
Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.
“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”
The Program Expands Under Pence, Enrolling Tens of Thousands Of Students
Voucher Growth in Indiana Since 2011Areas highlighted in red show a higher concentration of school voucher use in Indiana. Blue shows lower use.
Five years later, the program enrolls around 3 percent of the student population. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, wrote part of the founding school voucher legislation.
“I guess I look at 33,000 out of 1.1 million students, that’s still a very small percentage in terms of overall choice,” he said.
Once Gov. Mike Pence took office in 2013, the program experienced a dramatic change, putting enrollment in the tens of thousands. In his first State of the State address after being elected, Pence praised the program and encouraged the legislature to expand it.
“Indiana has given parents who previously had few choices the ability to choose the public or private school that best meets the needs of their family,” Pence said.
Three major changes came out of this expansion in 2013.
The first was the financial requirement to get a voucher changed. When the program was first past, a student could receive a voucher if their family income was at 100% of the free-reduced lunch eligibility, around $45,000 a year for a family of four. These students got 90 percent of their private school tuition paid with a voucher.
After the 2013 legislation, the state was now offering a 50 percent scholarship to students from more middle and upper middle class families. The new income requirements now allowed families at the 150 and 200 percent FRL level ($67,000 and $90,000 a year for a family of four, respectively) to get half of their private school tuition paid by the state.
The second major change in 2013 was to the ways a student qualified for a voucher. Previously, a student had to go to a public school for a year or received a scholarship from a specific organization.
Now, they could get a voucher if an older sibling received one, if their assigned public school received an “F” on the state’s accountability system, if they were a special education student or previously received a voucher.
And the third change was the legislature said there was no limit as to how many vouchers the state could give out. If a student qualified, they received the money.
Questions Around The Financial Impact Of Indiana’s Vouchers
Molly Stewart is a research associate at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, and has spent more than a year preparing a report on voucher programs across the United States.
“Mainly we are looking at where is the source of voucher money and where is it going to?” Stewart said.
She questions the money middle class families receive under the 50 percent voucher. She says it’s possible that some of these families would have sent their kids to private schools regardless. But now they qualify for vouchers, so the state is paying for it.
“That to me is money the state is now spending on private education that it was not previously spending on public education,” Stewart said.
But when the child goes to public school, the state covers instruction costs plus transportation, construction and infrastructure costs.
“There’s no way you can say it won’t cost more,” he said.
Which is true, less money is allocated to a voucher student than a public school student. But Stewart says it’s more complicated.
“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”
The one thing data does support – enrollment in the program is leveling off. Everyone says this is because available space from private schools is dwindling.
Campers at Latino Youth Summit draw life-sized self-portraits. The camp for Latino teenagers helps teenagers navigate their identities and mental health. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
As teenagers struggle to establish a sense of self, there’s an added factor for many Latino teens: straddling two cultural identities.
“They also experience prejudice and discrimination,” said Silvia Bigatti, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at IUPUI. “So that contributes to wondering ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this culture?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this family?’”
This summer, a group of researchers have been trying to help Latino teens battle depression and answer those questions at a one-of-a-kind summer camp.
The camp, known as Latino Youth Summit, wants to address this void.
Two Sets Of Cultural Expectations
Jennifer Santana came to the camp during its first session two years ago. Santana’s mom asked her to accompany her little sister, who was struggling with low self-esteem.
Santana didn’t think she’d get anything out of it, but some of the messages she heard stuck with her.
“It’s not what anybody else says about me, it’s not what anybody else thinks of me or what people think about Latinos in general,” Santana said. “As long as I know who I am, I think I’m good.”
This year, Santana graduated high school and returned to the camp to be a mentor to younger students.
Jennifer Santana, center, a counselor at Latino Youth Summit participates in a game with campers and fellow staff. Santana was once a camper who says she benefited from the camp. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Staff like Santana help teens establish that sense of self-identity. Researchers say that the strain of straddling two cultures can lead to more mental health issues.
At home, students ascribe to one set of cultural expectations. At school or with friends, there are separate cultural norms.
According to researcher Bigatti, approximately 35,000 to 39,000 Latino teens live in Marion County. She estimates about 12,000 or almost one in three teens are depressed, and 8,000 or one in five have had suicidal thoughts.
Although the camp aims to help address these mental health issues, there’s no therapy or traditional mental health interventions. Instead, Bigatti said, the camp focuses on creating a strong self-identify through creative outlets.
Channeling Identity Into Art
In the morning session of the camp, teens discuss issues like growing up in two cultures and it’s challenges. In the afternoon, teens participate in music, dance, yoga and art workshops. They’re activities to help the kids talk about self-identity in a creative way.
“What they do is they sit down around the table and talk about the theme of the day and then they do a collage, where they talk about who they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said.
A camper at Latino Youth Summit works on a self portrait. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
One project the teens work on is a life-size portrait where they depict a version of the person they want to be in the future.
“Some are dressed as soccer player, some are wearing a suit, some are an astronaut, whatever they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said. “As they’re doing it, they’re talking about it and problem solving and saying ‘Sure, I want to be an astronaut but it’s not just going to happen, what do I have to do to get there?’”
And these tactics are working.
In the three years since the camp started, surveys administered by researchers find teens who participate in the camp report having higher self-esteem and the ability to address negative aspects of life months after camp ends.
Helping teens improve their confidence and giving them tools to deal with challenges is important for all aspects of a teenager’s life, especially school.
Campers at Latino Youth Summit. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
‘Latinos Are Important, Hispanics Are Important’
For Santana, she knows she has to pay for college, but rather than looking at that as a barrier to pursuing a degree, she was able to make an attainable plan.
“I chose pharmacy technician as a stepping stone, so I’m going to get my certification,” Santana said. “While I’m working at a pharmacy technician, because it’s one year, I’m going to be studying to do double major for photography and business administration.”
She wants to open a coffee shop while practicing photography. And as she heads into this next phase of life, she feels the camp has prepared her for the challenges and tough challenges ahead.
“I learned here that Latinos are important, Hispanics are important,” Santana said. “So, as far as school comes and adulthood and everything after high school, I feel like I have a voice just like everyone else.”
State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
The Indiana Department of Education has asked for a $600 million increase in funding from the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year. Officials say the funds are necessary to expand state-funded pre-k for all kids, increase tuition support for all schools and bump up funding for small, rural schools.
The 2017 General Assembly, which convenes in January, will craft a two-year budget. Typically, money allocated for education is over half of the state’s budget.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated statewide pre-K as part of her re-election campaign. Earlier this summer, Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal state funded pre-k in the state as part of the Democratic platform.
The price tag for the DOE’s universal pre-k program is $147 the first year, according to the department. Ritz and Gregg have expressed confidence that the funds are available in the budget.
Another part of the DOE’s budget request focuses on increasing financial assistance to Indiana’s small schools. Statewide, enrollment has decreased in smaller school districts. The state’s current funding closely ties school funding to enrollment, so enrollment drops mean these rural schools receive less money.
“We need to invest in our small schools,” said Ritz, in a statement. “Indiana is a state of communities, and our schools are the heart of many of our smaller communities. I travel throughout Indiana two to three days a week, and I constantly see small schools, especially in rural communities, struggling to maintain their educational programing.”
The department also wants to expand a tax deduction that is currently only available for families with students in private schools. Currently, parents of private school students are eligible for a tax credit to help offset the cost of textbooks.
Instead Ritz wants a $1,000 tax deduction for all families to help offset the costs of textbooks.
“The parents of children in private schools have received this tax deduction for years,” said Ritz, in a statement. “It is time for middle class Hoosiers to get a tax break as well.”
The 2017 General Assembly convenes in January and will create a budget for the next two years.
This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. (ArmyStrongPA/Flickr)” credit=”
Five Indiana schools rate a majority of their teachers as ineffective or needing improvement.
This week, the department of education released data on teacher evaluation rankings in the state for the 2014-2015 school year, the most up to date data. The data included all public and charter schools.
Five schools reported more than 50 percent of their teachers received ineffective or needs improvement rating, the lowest categories.
They are Tindley Renaissance Academy in Indianapolis, Charter School of the Dunes in Gary, IN Math & Science Academy South in Indianapolis, Joseph Block Middle School in East Chicago and Andrew J. Brown Academy in Indianapolis. Four of the five are charter schools.
Despite the low rankings in these five schools, the overall number of teachers receiving lower evaluations continued to decrease for the third year in a row since major changes to toughen up state’s teacher evaluation system in 2011.
Currently, less than 2 percent of teachers statewide received these low rankings.
Douglas Harris, a professor at Tulane University, researches teacher evaluation systems around the country. He said this is a national trend for charter schools.
“Charter schools often but not always tend to be more outcome-driven and are more likely to be aggressive and rate teachers low and to dismiss low performing teachers,” Harris said.
He said traditional public teachers have comparatively higher ratings, nationwide.
Indiana does not have a standard statewide teacher evaluation, instead school districts determine evaluation standards and processes.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Joseph Block Middle School as a charter school. It is a public middle school in the School City of East Chicago.
Federal law says schools must test students at least once in high school. In Indiana that currently happens in 10th grade.
Until recently, 10th grade students were tested at the end of English 10 and Algebra I with tests developed specifically for those classes. During the 2015-16 school year, students instead took a 10th grade version of the ISTEP+.
A state law passed earlier this year, killed the ISTEP+ in its current form. Tuesday’s discussion surrounded what alternative options schools would have going forward.
Blackford County Schools superintendent Scot Croner, proposed the idea of creating a personal system for each student to determine if they’re ready to graduate.
“What I would advocate is at the onset of a student’s high school career, they would sit down, meet with the guidance counselor and the parents with the educators in the room and they would develop a four year plan for that student,” Croner said. “And a part of that component is they would make a determination what graduation assessment best fits that student’s particular needs.”
Croner said he recognizes that not every district has the capacity provide such a service. Still, he said he wants to start with the perfect scenario and scale back from there.
Croner also advocated the panel recommend using the SAT or ACT as the high school test component, rather than creating a separate 10th grade version of ISTEP+.
But Karla Egan, who works at EdMetric LLC and is chairperson of the Indiana Technical Advisory Committee, advised against this. She’s a nationally recognized expert in state-level assessment and standard setting.
“For the purposes of a [graduation qualifying exam] and measuring your standards, I don’t know if it’s the best fit,” Egan said.
Egan explained the ACT and SAT were designed to help colleges determine whether a student is ready to enter a university, not to determine whether they are ready to leave high school.
The legislation that created the ISTEP+ panel requires the group to submit recommendations to the legislature by Dec. 1.
At September’s meeting the panel plans to begin discussions on how to change the test for students in grades three through eight, another state and federal requirement.
The report showed the state is spending $18 million more on the program than it did last school year. In the first few years of the program, it was saving the state money, according to a calculation crafted by the General Assembly.
These scholarships allow a student from a low-income family that meets a specific set of criteria to use state money to attend a private school.
The program started in 2011 and in the first years, it grew exponentially. But although the number of students is still growing, it’s starting to level off.
Take a look at our interactive map to see where the most students are using school vouchers. The school districts located on the map mean a student using a voucher lives within that school district’s boundaries.
Over the last year, we’ve reported on the experiences of three first year teachers as they adjust to the new career. The group convened to discuss how the first year went, the lessons they learned, and how they’re preparing for their second year. (photo credit: Alex McCall and Eoban Binder/Indiana Public Broadcasting).