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.
Over the last few years, Muncie Community Schools has struggled to maintain its budget after property tax caps and a new funding formula went into place. They will end transportation services in 2018 and get rid of 37 positions this summer. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)
Muncie Community Schools will reduce their staff by 37 positions by next school year, through retirements, resignations and a few layoffs. The reduction comes after years of financial struggles for the district.
Superintendent Steven Baule said the district lost around $29 million after property tax caps and the new school funding formula.
Last year, the school board voted to end bus transportation by 2018 because of a protected tax law that diverted the district’s funds away from transportation.
The latest budget issues will affect staff, including teachers. Bale said he hopes to lay off fewer than 10 teachers, after they find out who is retiring and resigning – positions he will not replace.
Baule said the district can save money by replacing interventionists, staff who pull kids out of class to work on specific skills, with people who aren’t certified teachers. He said these employees are supplementing the child’s education so they don’t need to be certified, even though they would prefer it.
“That’s no different in what you see in healthcare today,” Baule said. “You don’t see the doctor all the time, you might see a physician’s assistant or you might see a nurse practitioner, it’s the exact same concept.”
Baule blames recent policy changes on the financial situation in his district, but some legislators don’t agree.
“Property tax caps should have had little impact on that funding stream,” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis.
Behring said the legislature took measures to protect schools, when they put the property tax caps in place in 2008, through the state’s school funding formula.
This formula, updated during the 2015 legislative session, allocates money to students, not districts. So districts that draw more students, get more money. But districts like Muncie, which are seeing declining enrollment numbers, do not have that protection.
Behning said that is only fair since a district that is losing kids doesn’t need the same amount of resources to educate fewer students. And he said districts can also levy tax referenda to increase property taxes.
But Baule said the state should be able to help out more.
“If the state doesn’t change how it funds education, it’s really making a statement that they don’t feel public education has value,” Baule said.
Frankfort teacher Anne Lanum works with English learner students. Photo by Claire McInerny
The English learner population is growing across the Midwest, as more immigrants settle in smaller towns, and Indiana is currently seeing an increase of students needing to learn English at a higher rate than the rest of the country.
While most schools struggle to meet the needs of students who don’t speak English, this challenge is especially obvious in rural school districts, where enrollment is decreasing and resources are tight.
Madeline Mavrogordato, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, conducts research on English learners. She said rural districts do struggle, but they can also adapt more quickly than large districts.
Melissa Griggs, on parent involvement
“So I think one of the things that’s amazing about working in a school district like that, is they tend to be smaller to begin with. So the power you have to actually impact change in a district like that is incredible,” Mavrogordato said.
In Indiana, the rural district Community Schools of Frankfort is also the district with the highest percentage of English learners in the state. Its need for English learner resources is also one of the highest in the state, and it is an example of how many schools are struggling to keep up with the growth of English learners.
Changing Attitudes To Effectively Teach
Frankfort is a small town in central Indiana with a little more than 16,000 people. Over the last few decades, as more factory jobs became available, more Latino families moved there.
Anne Lanum started as a elementary school teacher in the Frankfort school district, 16 years ago. Over that time, the number of her students with English learning needs grew from 20 to 90 percent. In the beginning of this boom, Lanum says negative attitudes about the population change in the community reached the schools.
Olivia Rothenberger, on attitudes from administrators
“At that time they weren’t really accepted, people didn’t want them at the other schools,” Lanum said.
She said the community is more comfortable now. But she and other teachers said other challenges are harder to overcome, including the student to teacher ratio.
Frankfort has the largest percentage of English learning students in the state, 800 students in a small district. But it only has eight teachers, and that team said they’re always trying to catch up.
After seeing the negative attitudes toward Latino students, Lanum decided two years ago to get her English learner certification and switch jobs. She’s now one of those eight teachers split among the hundreds of kids needing her specified instruction.
She said it’s been a tough transition, because these students are not the district’s top priority. For example, Lanum meets with more than 200 kids at one elementary school, but she doesn’t have her own classroom.
“If there’s a room that has to go, it’s my room and I just have to find a space,” she said. “I have to find a breezeway or a corner to teach kids.”
Anne Lanum, on resources
Other teachers said they get pulled away from working with English learning students to proctor ISTEP+ exams or do lunch duty. And they all said the schools need more dedicated, certified EL teachers. But Frankfort’s Director of English Learning, Lori North, says that’s a tough ask right now.
“We had teacher cuts this year so it’s really hard for me to go and say ‘I need more EL teachers’ when they’re cutting general education teachers,” North said.
They all said the attitudes have gotten better in the community and in the schools toward these students. Principals and other administrators are starting to understand why English learning classes are important for these students to succeed in the rest of their classes.
“Everyone’s an English learner teacher”
The situation for the Frankfort schools is typical for most schools with high English learner populations.
Right now in Frankfort, there is typically one EL teacher per school that has hundreds of students needing their services. This one teacher spends the days helping classroom teachers co-teach, a combination of pull out sessions with small groups and large class sessions.
Teachers in Frankfort said this is not ideal because students aren’t getting enough uninterrupted, individual instruction.
Karie Cloe, on language barriers
Mavrogordato said that’s a common problem everywhere, and if schools that aren’t able to hire more English learner teachers want to better serve the kids there is a more plausible solution.
“If you’re lucky kids are going to get pulled out of class maybe two days, three days a week to receive services,” Mavrogordato said. “But the other six hours of the day across five days a week, they’re with general education teachers. So if the general education teachers have not received training or professional development to help them address the linguistic and cultural needs of English language learners, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
The teachers in Frankfort are trying to employ this tactic in their schools. Melissa Griggs is one the English learner teachers and also coaches classroom teachers on tactics to use in the classroom.
“So much is suffering because they’re not learning grade level content if they’re not learning the language,” Griggs said. “But I think that’s also where we do a great job of informing the teachers and giving them strategies on how to help too.”
And Griggs said, in a district where up to 50 percent of the class could not understand what the teacher is saying, every teacher becomes an English learning teacher.
“They Just Need Language”
For North, the most frustrating part of not having enough staff and training to help students learn English is that she knows that these students are smart.
Lori North, on stigma
The Community Schools of Frankfort received Ds on the state’s A-F system the last three years. English learners must take the ISTEP+, but they cannot have it translated. This means most English learners fail the test, and with a third of students in the district learning the language, ISTEP+ scores are often low.
North said the district doesn’t put pressure on her team to perform better, but the teachers are disappointed by this situation.
“I think we feel pressure in our own buildings because we feel tired of failing,” North said. “We’re tired of working so hard, but we don’t get the numbers.”
But once the English learners master the language, most are strong academically.
“They just need language,” North said. “Once they have language, in many ways, they outperform the general population.”
Because the school district is tight on money for everything, North said she can’t ask for too much for the English learners. She has grant money that she wants to use to get classroom teachers EL certified. She says if more teachers know how to help the kids, the better it is off everyone.
“They just deserve every opportunity they can give them,” North said. “I know my EL teachers work really hard to do that, but it never feels like enough. I think that’s what we feel like, we’re eight strong. Like we’re doing our best, we’re doing the very best we can but is that enough?”
For the school district in the northwest Indiana city, budget woes are nothing new.
At the beginning of the school year, we visited Gary Community Schools to see how the financial and academic struggles of the district were affecting learning — and how district officials are optimistic the schools can survive.
The series, Community of Opportunity, explored the community and district at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. On-the-ground and in-the-schools, reporter Rachel Morello laid out the following issues:
The Gary Community School Corporation does need to get better. Student test scores are low, schools are closing. The district is in debt to the tune of roughly $20 million dollars. In addition, the growth of the state’s voucher program and proliferation of the charter school movement have hit the public school district hard. At one time, Gary had a greater percentage of charter schools than any other district in the nation. District leaders estimate about 3,000 kids have left GCSC for other local schools in the past two or three years. To top it all off, many of the statewide policies put in place in Indianapolis in recent years don’t play out so favorably for Gary. The General Assembly approved a new school funding formula that will short GCSC $9 million over the next two years.
School staff and community members expressed hope the schools, and the community in Gary, could turn around to overcome these woes. Continue Reading →
Undocumented students from Indiana can apply for a scholarship to attend school at universities in Delaware and Connecticut. Indiana is one of many states that charge undocumented student out of state tuition, no matter how long they have lived in a state. (Photo Credit: chancadoodle/Flickr)
A national scholarship foundation will offer a $20,000 a year scholarship to undocumented students in Indiana to attend college in Delaware or Connecticut. They say Indiana policy restricts college access for undocumented students.
According to the Indiana Latino Institute, there are an estimated 300-400 undocumented students that graduate from Indiana high schools each year. Marlene Dotson, president of the Indiana Latino Institute, says these students face a lot of challenges if they want to attend college.
“There are very few options,” Dotson says. “First because they don’t qualify for federal aid because of their legal status. Undocumented students have to look for private scholarships to help their financial needs or tuition.”
TheDream.US is a privately funded scholarship organization that helps undocumented students fund their college education. This specific scholarship will give 500 students in 15 states $20,000 a year to attend Eastern Connecticut State or Delaware State universities – where these students can cover the cost of attending with the entire scholarship. Continue Reading →
Ayana Wilson-Coles is one of two classroom teacher on the new ISTEP+ panel that teaches a grade where students take ISTEP+. The panel is tasked with re-writing the state assessment, and meets for the first time May 24. (photo credit: Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
The new ISTEP+ panel tasked with re-writing the state assessment is established and will meet for the first time May 24. A majority of the panel’s members are teachers, principals and superintendents who have seen issues with the test first hand and want to see it change in ways that help teachers in the classroom and doesn’t marginalize certain groups of students.
Legislation mandates the group must issue a report to the legislature by December. This report will guide legislative action in the 2017 session. The state’s current testing contract with Pearson expires after the 2017 administration of the test.
Of the 23 people serving on the panel, 12 are educators currently working in school districts (teachers, principals and superintendents). These educators say their goals for the re-write are informed by their work in their classrooms.
The Focus On ISTEP+ In The Classroom
One thing many educators have long criticized of the ISTEP+ is its prominence on a day to day basis in the classroom. Few teachers use it as a tool to gauge where students are academically. It’s true service is as a measuring instrument for the state, and educators have said that it looms on the minds of both teachers and students all year.
Ayana Wilson-Coles is a third grade teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Pike Township. She’s one of the two members of the ISTEP+ panel that teaches a grade that takes the test.
“The second half of the school year, starting in January, we are trying to prepare our kids for the test.”
This is one of the major issues Wilson-Coles wants to address: how much she has to prioritize preparing for ISTEP+. She says during second semester she spends a lot of instruction time making sure kids are familiar with the technology, have strategies for doing well on multiple choice and understand how the time constraints will work. She says her students feel pressure to do well.
“I had a lot of kids this past year, when we took the first [installment of the] ISTEP+, break down and cry,” she says. And once they are upset, they had trouble finishing the test. “It’s not that they didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t help them, and they were frustrated and they just cried. There was nothing I could do to make them finish the test.”
And because she’s making sure the kids are prepared for the format of the test, she thinks other educational opportunities are lost. She says if the ISTEP+ didn’t have such high stakes, her classroom could be a different place.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
The Department of Education is moving forward with efforts to help with teacher recruitment and retention thanks to a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz says the money established the Indiana Center on Teacher Quality at Indiana University, which focuses on increasing the number of qualified special education teachers in the state. The Center provides resources for scholarships for students wanting to become special education teachers and will also help facilitate professional development for these teachers.
The grant also creates a new position at the DOE that will focus on teacher attraction and retention in the state.
Ritz says this money allows the DOE to implement the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group of 50 educators headed by Ritz that met a few times before the legislative session. Some of the recommendations in the report needed legislative action to go into effect, but didn’t get it.
The DOE received the grant in January, but didn’t make the official announcement until today. During the legislative session Ritz was advocating for legislation that helped fulfill some of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations.
She says this grant allows the DOE to move forward with things that don’t need legislative approval, such as establishing mentoring programs.
“We will begin talking about a framework of what makes a great mentoring program in a school for beginning teachers,” Ritz said. She also said they would like to work in tandem with universities who are educating future teachers, and will attend a summit of higher education institutions this summer.
“We’ll talk about various items whether it be clinical experiences, whether it be recruitment strategies that they’re using– making sure they have a diverse workforce.”
The Indiana Center on Teacher Quality at Indiana University has been functioning since the announcement by the grant, and is run through IU’s Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and Center on Community Living and Careers.
The count for special education students will also formally be approved. Students in Indiana are counted twice a year so the state has an accurate perception of enrollment at schools. The count for special education students shows an increase between the December count and the April count, with 319 more students enrolled with a physical or cognitive disability.
We’ll also get an update on testing and accountability. IREAD-3 tests from 2016 are scored but not available yet to the public. The accountability part of the update will focus on summer training sessions for schools to learn about the new A-F system approved at the April meeting.
The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Room 233 of the Statehouse. Reporters Claire McInerny (@ClaireMcInerny) and Peter Balonon-Rosen (@pbalonon_rosen) will be at the meeting so follow them on Twitter for updates.
A program that pays students and teachers for passing AP tests is seeing its funding stream shift. (David Hartman /Flickr)
A program that incentivizes students who enroll in Advanced Placement classes and pass the AP test is trying to continue without federal funding. The program has successfully increased the number of students taking and passing AP science, math and English classes in Indiana.
The program, AP-TIP IN, started in 2012 as a way to get students in districts with high numbers of minorities and students living in poverty to enroll in AP science, math and English classes. The program is through the National Math and Science initiative and the first three years in Indiana were funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
The way the program works is the AP-TIP IN staff, located at the University of Notre Dame, works with schools that meet certain income requirements and have a large population of minority students. They then work with the schools to set goals for how many students will enroll in AP classes and how many of those will pass the AP test.
AP-TIP IN provides professional development for the AP teachers as well.
In the first three years of the program, 30 high schools participated, and every year the program saw an increase in the number of students enrolling in AP classes as well as the number of students who passed the AP test at the end of the year.
The first cohort of nine schools were in the program from 2012-2015. They saw a 66 percent increase in enrollment in those classes and an 87 percent increase in the number of students that passed the AP test.
Karen Morris is the head of the AP-TIP IN program and says the point of the program is to get students enrolled and succeeding in AP classes who might not have ever enrolled.
“We use the AP Potential tool as a means to identify students who have the potential for AP success but may not be enrolled in that course because they many not have ever been in a rigorous course before.”
This potential tool is using a student’s PSAT score and consulting with the guidance counselor to identify students who might do well in an AP class.
Students enrolled in an AP class at these schools and then pass the test at the end of the year receive a $100 incentive. AP teachers can receive up to $1000 if more than 90 percent of their class takes the AP test and if they meet their goal of students passing the test.
This is the first year the program is existing without the federal grant, but many schools are continuing to administer it through local donors.
A grant from the Commission for Higher Education pays for the professional development portion of the program, but Morris says they no longer have funding for the incentive portion. But some schools are continuing this part of the program by looking to local donors.
Washington High School in South Bend recently joined the program and is receiving its incentive money from the St. Joseph Community Foundation.
Morris says she’d like to see more state funding to keep this program going, but the attitude toward it has shifted since they began in 2012.
“When we started the program we were under a different governor and a different state superintendent and there was a culture for college and career readiness that focused on AP, IB and dual credit,” Morris says.
Ballot referenda are becoming a more common way for school districts to get money lost to property tax caps and funding formula changes. (photo credit: auntneecey/Flickr)
Tuesday’s election brought forth a new crop of school districts asking voters to raise property taxes to sustain their schools.
As referenda become more and more common, more district superintendents are having to learn how to campaign.
David Shafer is the superintendent for Brown County schools, which posed a referendum in Tuesday’s primary. He says the community formed a PAC and spent a lot of time knocking on doors to spread the word throughout the community.
“It was enormously consuming as far as time and effort was concerned,” Shafer says. “I would concur that I don’t particularly like that, I don’t like going to the voters and asking them to approve a property tax increase.”
Ft. Wayne Community Schools chief financial officer Kathy Friend says she also formed a PAC and campaigned to pass her referendum.
“We spent about $40,000 getting our message out and it included mailers and social media,” Friend says.
The subject of educators campaigning came up during WFIU’s Noon Edition, where the conversation focused school funding.