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

Report: Indiana’s Education System Improved Year After Year

The state of Indiana’s school children is slightly better than previous years but still lagging in some areas compared to national standards. That’s according to the annual KIDS Count report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report found the following about Indiana’s education system:

  • 61 percent of children do not attend preschool, a number consistent with the findings in the 2007-09 report. The national average is 54 percent.
  • 62 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, better than the national average of 66 percent.
  • 62 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math, up from the last report when the state was at 65 percent. It’s also lower than the national average of 66 percent.
  • 20 percent of high school students are not graduating on time, a significant decrease from the last report, when 26 percent of students were not graduating on time, but slightly higher than the national average of 19 percent.

Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting writes that overall, the state ranks 32nd in well-being, which factors in data from categories including health, economic well-being and family and community – last year the state ranked 27th:

But Indiana Youth Institute interim CEO Glenn Augustine says that’s more a case of other states, such as Missouri and New York, improving just a little more than Indiana.

“In three-quarters of the categories the Casey Foundation looks at, Indiana either held its own or improved,” Augustine says.

The KIDS Count report is released every year.

Teachers: How Much Do You Pay For School Supplies Each Year?

It’s no secret that teachers spend hundreds of dollars each year to decorate their classrooms, stock the classroom library or have extra supplies on hand. It’s become the norm for teachers to pay for most of these classroom items out-of-pocket,

In fact, at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, a SheerID and Agile Education Marketing study found that on average, teachers spend around $513 of their own money on classroom supplies, instructional materials, books and professional develop.

The General Assembly recognized this trend during the 2015 session when some lawmakers proposed a $200 tax credit for teachers – but the final version of the budget allowed for only $100.

We want to know what this practice looks like in Indiana. Teachers, educators or anyone who works with kids in an education capacity, please fill out this one question survey so we can get a feel for how much of your paycheck goes back into your job.

Muncie School District To Stop Offering Transportation Services

Muncie Schools will discontinue bus services because of budget problems.

Muncie Schools will discontinue bus services because of budget problems. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Representatives of the local school district in Muncie have voted to stop bus transportation for area students in 2018 – the soonest state law will allow.

But school board members say they don’t actually want to stop school buses from running. The board says it’s sending a message to the Statehouse to fix a state law that’s hurting some Hoosier schools.

A unanimous vote to end school bus transportation in Muncie came with no boos, insults, or impassioned pleas from the public Tuesday night, because as Muncie Community Schools Superintendent Steven Baule puts it, everyone knows the problem lies with the state.

“It was really a law set up to solve a problem that wasn’t a problem,” Baule says.

Baule is talking about protected taxes, a law passed in 2013 by state lawmakers to make sure no school with outstanding debt defaults on its bond payments. Money must be put into the debt services portion of a school’s budget first, and the rest parceled out to remaining portions. That’s left Muncie with an almost 90 percent loss in its transportation fund.

The protected taxes law is one reason district’s are struggling to fund transportation, in addition to the property tax caps that were added to the state constitution a few years ago. But after the law went into place, the General Assembly created waivers for districts hardest hit.

How does a district receives the waiver?

“You’re impacted by 10 percent or more. In other words, you’re going to lose 10 percent or more of your funding, specifically for transportation,” says Dennis Costerison, Executive Director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials.

But the news from Muncie shows even with these waivers, districts are struggling to provide services like transportation that have typically been provided.

The waivers expire next year, so Muncie and other affected school districts will no longer have this reprieve unless the General Assembly takes action.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, says he would like to see the legislature take up the issue and modify the protected tax law.

“This is a bigger deal than we thought it would be, and I think the initial ideas here were well intended, but you know, this happens sometimes.” Lanane said. “There are unintended consequences and we shouldn’t be afraid to address it and I hope we will next year.”

Lanane says it will likely take a rally of school districts around the state for lawmakers to take up the issue of protected taxes in future sessions. Because Indiana law says a school district must give parents three years’ notice before stopping bus service, Muncie has until 2018 to convince other districts to make the same statement.

Study: Most Districts Don’t Protect LGBTQ Students From Bullying

Indiana hovers around the national average of number of school districts in a state with an anti-bullying policy in place.

Indiana hovers around the national average for number of school districts with an anti-bullying policy in place. (Photo Credit: richiesoft/Flickr)

With the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, transgender people entering mainstream pop culture and controversial legislation regarding inclusion and the rights of LGBTQ people (something Indiana knows all too well), it was only a matter of time until these issues reached the classroom.

But a recent study released by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network shows most school districts in the country don’t have anti-bullying policies in general, and even fewer have specific policies to protect LGBTQ students.

When it comes to Indiana districts with anti-bullying policies, 79.7 percent of districts have a policy on the books. The national average is 73.3 percent.

But when you dig into the policies in Indiana, very few of them specifically cover LGBTQ students. Only 3.1 percent of policies cover lesbian, gay and bisexual students. Less than one percent of policies add transgender students to that list.

This probably stems from the fact that the state’s anti-bullying law exists doesn’t break down into specific groups of students that are protected.

The other notable data from the study looks at preparing and holding teachers accountable if they know about or witness bullying. In Indiana, only 11 percent of school districts in the state with anti-bullying policies require professional development around the policy. So even if a school has a policy in place, the teachers rarely receive training on how to implement it. And only one percent of those schools have any sort of reporting system in place.

(To read about a group of students trying to inform their teachers about LGBTQ issues, check out one of our previous stories.)

On a national scale, the U.S. Senate took up this issue Tuesday when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) proposed an amendment to the new version of No Child Left Behind his chamber is considering. The addendum would have DONE WHAT to help reduce the amount of bullying toward LGBTQ issues, but both Democrats and Republicans voted against the amendment.

Evie Blad of Education Week explains what the proposed amendment would have done and why it failed:

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, proposed by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has been proposed in previous sessions of Congress and endorsed by the White House. It would have amended the ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind, with the aim of protecting students from harassment based on “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Supporters of the measure—including the co-sponsor of the proposed ESEA overhaul, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington—made passionate pleas for its passage, telling stories about cruel harrassment of young gay students on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“The Student Non-Discrimination Amendment would afford LGBT students similar protections that currently exist for students who are bullied, based on race, gender, religion, disability, and country of national origin,” Murray said. “So unless you think LGBT students don’t deserve protection from discrimination the way other students do—this should be an easy one to support.”

But a growing number of federal courts, as well as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have all said that Title IX’s protections for sex and gender extend to sexual orientation and gender identity, said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., the associate executive director and general counsel for the National School Boards Association.

Gary Schools To Pick Financial Consultant

The Gary Community Schools Corporation is moving forward with a plan to choose an outside organization to help manage the district’s finances.


GARY | Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, along with members of the School Board, seem receptive to working with a specialist to iron out the school’s financial problems. As a result of legislation pushed by Sens.

Read more at: www.nwitimes.com

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.

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