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.

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Your Guide To The Ten School Referenda On Tuesday’s Ballot

It’s primary day in Indiana, and 10 school districts around the state are posing ballot referenda asking voters to raise property taxes to help fund schools.

The districts say they need additional revenue because of property tax caps instilled in 2008 and the updated school funding formula passed during the 2015 General Assembly.

Referenda posed during primaries usually pass at a higher rate, because typically primary elections aren’t as interesting to the general population, meaning those that are passionate about the referenda question show up to the polls.

But as we’ve reported, Tuesday’s primary could be the exception to the trend. With the high stakes and highly publicized presidential primary, local questions like school referenda might not be on many voters’ minds, which could lead to a no vote.

As results come in tonight, reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen will be tweeting updates (@pbalonon_rosen and @StateImpactIN) and will also post stories here.

Below is a list of all 10 school districts posing school referenda. Click the name of the school district to learn more about what they are hoping to accomplish with the money and what led them to take the question to the ballot:

Argos Community Schools

Brown County Community Schools

Ft. Wayne Community Schools

Hamilton Southeastern Schools

New Prairie United School Corporation

Noblesville Schools

Southwest Allen County

Speedway Schools

Southern Wells Community Schools

Wabash City Schools

As More Japanese Move To Columbus The Schools Seek To Adapt

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. in August with her husband and two kids for her husband's job at Enkei. Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, both attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services.

Hiroko Murabayashi moved to Columbus, Ind. from Japan in August with her husband and two kids. They came for her husband’s job at Enkei, a Japanese wheel company with a branch in Columbus. Her children, Yoki, 9, and Rico, 7, attend Southside Elementary school in the Bartholomew County School Corporation and receive English language services. When they started the year they didn’t speak any English. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Over the last five years, the number of English learners in Indiana grew faster than the national average. Today, five percent of all students in the state don’t speak English as their first language.

This growing population comes to Indiana from all over the world. The new Hoosiers bring more than 200 languages into schools. International companies in Columbus are attracting families from a handful of different countries, including Japan, India and China.

And while the majority of the district’s English Learners are native Spanish speakers, traditionally the largest population of EL students in Columbus, the second biggest group is Japanese students.

“There have been more Japanese students every year,” says English Learner teacher Tony Butiste. He says the number of Japanese students he teaches increased the most over the last three years. The district now teaches 84 Japanese-speaking students.

And with a growing number of students from one country, the school district is realizing they must adapt to help educate these students properly.

From Japan To Indiana, With A Few Road Bumps

Nine-year-old Yoki Murabayashi and his seven-year-old sister Rico, are almost done with their first school year at Southside Elementary School, and it’s been a school year full of change.

Yoki and Rico moved to Columbus in August, after their dad was transferred to the Columbus branch of Enkei, a Japanese wheel company.

Hiroko Murabayashi, Yoki and Rico’s mother, was very nervous when she enrolled them in school.

Nine-year-old Yoki Murabayashi reads a book in Japanese, his native language.

Nine-year-old Yoki Murabayashi reads a book in Japanese, his native language. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

“They didn’t know anything, even the alphabet,” Hiroko says through a volunteer translator.

At first, that adjustment was tough for the whole family, including seven-year-old Rico.

“In the beginning she cried,” says Hiroko. “She didn’t want to go to school and every morning she cried.”

Hiroko recalls one time when her husband was out of town for work, she got sick and couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually there wasn’t any food in the house.

In Japan kids can go to the stores, by themselves, even when they’re that young,” she says. “But here we can’t.”

So rather than sending the kids down to the store, they had to wait for a friend to find out Hiroko was sick and bring the family dinner.

But besides adjusting to the cultural differences between Japan and Indiana, the biggest challenge for the family has been learning English. Continue Reading

Schools On The Ballot: Brown County and Wabash City

Ten school districts are posing education referenda on Tuesday's ballot.

Ten school districts are posing education referenda on Tuesday’s ballot. (Vox Efx/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in the night of May 3. 

To help schools make up for funds lost to property tax caps or a new school funding formula, many districts have turned to ballot referenda.

Both Brown County Schools and Wabash City Schools are posing a referendum to voters next week in hopes of increasing their general funds. Both districts took a hit from the school funding formula change enacted after last year’s General Assembly.

Brown County Schools

If passed, the referendum in Brown County would give the school district an extra $1 million per year for their general fund.

Superintendent David Shafer says almost all of this money would go toward teacher salaries.

“We haven’t been able to pay our teachers what we think is a competitive level of salary for several years now,” Shafer says. “So we’ve lost some quality teachers to other school districts that can pay more.”

Shafer says teacher salaries aren’t competitive because of the money the district receives from the state declined after the legislature re-wrote the school funding formula in 2015. That formula shifted more money per student, meaning a school with high enrollment will get more money. Shafer says that model hurts the schools in his district.

“County wide districts, like Brown County, where we have enrollment decline, are penalized by the current funding formula,” he says. “I think that the formula doesn’t recognize some limitations that we have in a rural county-wide district.”

And with less money coming in than before, the district will be forced to make cost reductions, which he’s hoping the referendum will allow them to avoid.

To save money, other Indiana school districts have closed schools. Shafer says since Brown County is a rural school district, with schools are spread out over a larger area, that wouldn’t be plausible. He doesn’t want to subject kids to longer bus rides. Continue Reading

Schools On The Ballot: Ft. Wayne And New Prairie

Ten school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

Ten school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

All week we are taking a closer look at the ten school referenda that will appear on ballots around the state May 3. A referendum asks voters in a particular area to choose whether to increase their property taxes to fund schools. We will follow all ten referenda and post results as they come in the night of May 3. 

There are two types of school referendum a school district may put on a ballot– one that raises taxes to help with construction and renovation projects, or one that raises taxes to help the district’s general fund.

Ft. Wayne Community Schools and New Prairie United School Corporation are both asking voters to pass a construction referendum.

New Prairie United School Corporation

New Prairie United School Corporation in LaPorte and St. Joseph counties is looking to raise $42 million dollars to renovate and add to many of the district’s schools.

Superintendent Paul White says after property tax caps went into place in 2012, the fund to complete construction projects like this dramatically decreased. Once the caps went into place, the district has access to $3 million a year for construction projects, and White says they use all of that to just maintain current buildings.

The $42 million budget the district hopes to get after this referendum would help create new buildings and give major updates to existing schools.

A major project the district would like to complete with the money is build up the college preparatory program at the high school.

“We want to really build and cultivate a vocational wing of the high school to support programs we have in place already that we want to better support and we have some programs we want to add.”

White says they want to add Project Lead The Way, vocational agriculture, animal science and biomedical programs. Those types of programs require specific classrooms and labs that will be added to the high school.

The construction costs would also cover adding secure entries to some elementary schools and putting new roofs and boilers in a few schools.

White says updating the energy infrastructure costs money now but will save money for the taxpayers in the long term.

“Energy experts have calculated that we are spending about $150,000 district wide on energy inefficiency,” he says. “We would start saving the taxpayers [money] if we did this and put in more modern, energy efficient equipment.”

District officials and a political action committee created by community members in favor of the tax increase have spent the last few months educating the community about the details of the referendum.

White says one of the more confusing parts of the language on the ballot has to do with the rate hike itself. The actual rate increase, that will get the district the $42 million, is less than the number on the ballot. That’s because there’s already an increase in place to pay off the debt of a middle school in the district. For a few years taxpayers would fund both of those projects but in seven years, once the middle school is paid off, the rate will drop.

White says all the outreach they have done in the community makes him hopeful it will pass.

“We’ve been working really hard to engage with the community and it looks favorable. We have members of the community who have concerns or have voiced that they are against the project, but we have what appears to be more residents that are for it.”

Ft. Wayne Community Schools

The situation with Ft. Wayne Community Schools’ construction referendum is different from New Prairie. Rather than raise taxes to complete a new construction project, the district is asking voters to continue paying an increased property tax rate for a multiyear project to renovate all of the district’s schools. That project comes with a $130 million price tag.

Voters first approved a referendum in 2012 so the district could begin a two phase process to renovate the district’s schools. If the referendum on the May 3 ballot passes, phase two of this project may begin.

Chief Financial Officer for the district Kathy Friend says the schools renovated during Phase one were the ten neediest schools in the district. A lot of these schools got huge renovations. Friend says phase two will do smaller renovations on 42 schools.

“In Phase one we gained over $200,000 in energy efficiency in a year because of having better, more efficient [heating and cooling] systems, windows and all of that,” Friend says.

The second phase will put new roofs on schools, update heating and cooling systems in other schools and add new parent drop off lanes at certain schools. It will also update lighting and security systems at some schools.

Phase one came in under budget by $2 million, and Friend says this probably helps contribute to the positive feedback she’s getting from community members about this referendum. She says the referendum has received endorsements from many community groups, but even if it doesn’t pass, she says the district needs this money to improve the schools.

“We would want to come back to the taxpayers soon after,” Friend says. “I know we have to wait a year but we would come back again and try to get this done. That will just delay progress and we would like to get going to get these things taken care of.”

Your Guide To School Referenda On The May 2016 Ballot

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Many schools started turning to these referendum questions after property tax caps went into place in 2008. (photo credit: Jashin Lin/WTIU News)

As the May 3 Indiana primary approaches, ten school districts across the state are asking voters to raise taxes to fund school projects.

In November 2008, Indiana’s public school districts began posing more and more school funding questions to their communities on the ballot – should taxes be raised to fund a certain construction project or boost the district’s general fund?

If a referendum passes, the property taxes increase by a specified amount for a specific period of time. They were rare before the property tax cap. Since November 2008, there have been 128.

It’s a part of the ballot that has significant impact on a local community, but voters often arrive at the polls with little information about their community’s referendum question and why it is there.

There are ten referendum on the May 3 primary ballots. They span the entire state, big and small school districts and fund both general funds and construction projects. Over the next week, we’re going to dig into the ballot questions around the state to bring voters more information about each of them. Here are the ten school districts asking their communities for tax increases:

  • Ft. Wayne Community Schools
  • New Prairie United School Corporation
  • Argos Community Schools
  • Brown County Schools
  • Hamilton Southeastern Schools
  • MSD of Southwest Allen County
  • Noblesville Schools
  • School Town of Speedway
  • Southern Wells Community Schools
  • Wabash City Schools

Referenda Trends Since 2008

School referendum questions became a common ballot measure in Indiana back in 2008, after the legislature voted to enact property tax caps. The caps were written into the state constitution, and the amendment says the government may not collect taxes equaling more than one percent of an owner occupied residence, two percent for other residential properties and three percent for all other properties.

But school districts used to depend on property tax money. Without it, many turned to referenda to supplement.

Continue Reading

Indiana’s New Science Standards Require Computer Science

A student at Crawfordsville's Hose Elementary uses a computer in the school's media center. The district has zeroed out its technology fund and made other cuts to make up for revenues they lost because of Indiana's property tax caps.

For the first time, Indiana’s science standards include computer science standards for kindergarten through eighth grade student. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana).

The State Board of Education approved new sciences standards for K-12 students Friday. For the first time, computer science will be required for elementary and middle school students.

The Indiana Department of Education is required to update standards every six years. Jeremy Eltz, Assistant Director of College and Career Readiness for the DOE, oversaw the re-write of the science standards and says regular updates are especially important for science. He says, with scientific discoveries happening all the time and new technology being developed, it’s important to stay up to date.

The most notable change between the old science standards and the newly adopted ones is the addition of computer science for kindergarten through eighth grade. Eltz says the biggest focus for the re-write was wanting to change the standards from what they call ‘concrete standards’ (ex: know the parts of a cell) to ‘literacy standards’ (students learning how to think critically).

“They’re a little more broad, so you’re able to implement them in the physical, life and earth science content standards,” Eltz says.

To illustrate what he means, take a look at these computer science standards for sixth through eighth graders: Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 2.19.33 PM For a student to master “troubleshooting strategies to identify and solve routine hardware and software problems” they don’t need to be in a computer science class. This can be mastered while using computer programs in any subject, and that’s what Eltz means by ‘literacy standards’.

“Students have skills, proficiencies, and are capable of understanding and achieving certain things in all subject areas,” Eltz says. “So we want to see the computer science standards embedded in English class, math class, social studies, music, things like that. Those should be taught across the board, not just in your science class.”

The new standards also include engineering standards, which are also flexible enough to be taught in other classes.

(View all of the standards and compare them to old science standards here.)

“It’s going to take infrastructure and access and resources for kids to really be able to experience that and learn it as much as they can,” says DOE spokesperson Samantha Hart. “Going forward, we’re going to need to be working with the General Assembly to make sure that the resources are there at the local level.”

Elton says these resources include teacher training.

“This summer and over the fall we’re going to provide a substantial amount of professional development, support and resources,” Eltz says.

SBOE Moves Forward With New Growth Model For A-F Grades

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Whicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at Friday's meeting.

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Wicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at Friday’s meeting. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The State Board of Education voted Friday to finalize the new A-F system for schools. Their changes include a new growth measure to the accountability system.

Currently, A-F grades for elementary and middle schools are mostly calculated using ISTEP+ scores. Friday’s re-write diversifies the rubric.

(High school students only take the ISTEP+ in one grade level, so multiple factors contribute to those A-F grades.)

The new rules include student growth on the ISTEP+ in the elementary and middle school and high school calculations. This means, if the student’s final ISTEP+ score is a failing grade, but they improved from their score last year, the school will accrue positive points.

And calculating this growth requires a statistical formula, which is what the SBOE voted on Friday. The board voted unanimously to add the growth formula into the new A-F system.

This table represents the percentile ranges that will be used to calculate growth in A-F school accountability grades.

This table represents the percentile ranges that will be used to calculate growth in A-F school accountability grades. The ‘target range’ column shows the percentile range a student’s score may fall into, and how many points the school will earn from that grade. Students whose scores fall in failing percentile ranges can still earn points for their school. If a student’s score on a test puts them in a new category (the far left column) he/she is considered ‘high movement’. If their score stays steady in a certain percentile range, they get the points in the ‘standard movement column. If a student does worse, and receives a lower score than the previous year, they get points awarded in the ‘low movement’ column.  (photo credit: Indiana State Board of Education)

Judy Demuth of the Indiana Urban Schools Association testified before the vote, encouraging the SBOE to postpone its vote on the growth table. The IUSA opposes the growth model because they say it creates “winners and losers” by using percentiles to classify student grades.

“This method of determining student growth forces a comparison of students against each other,” DeMuth said. “Which is contrary to Indiana Code 20-31-8-5.4 prohibiting peer to peer comparisons.”

But Cynthia Roach, Senior Director of Assessment and Accountability for the SBOE, says the Attorney General’s office and the board’s legal staff already addressed this concern.

“They determined it to be legal within requirements of [the law],” Roach said. “All student progress is judged to their growth.”

She says students aren’t being compared to other students, this year’s score is being compared to last year’s score.

Board member Cari Wicker echoed this sentiment. She says the calculation doesn’t need to be easy to understand to be valuable.

“Simplicity is not the goal,” Cari Wicker, “The goal is to be more fair.”

School A-F grades will be calculated using this new system in 2016.

The state accountability system may also change once federal negotiations around the new Every Student Succeeds Act are finalized. The new federal law requires state accountability systems to include multiple measures outside of test scores. The U.S. Department of Education will issue guidelines to states in the next year and a half.

As English Learners In Indiana Grow, How Is The State Preparing?

A growing number of Indiana’s public school students are English learners, EL students, where English isn’t their native language. These students receive additional language instruction at school, in addition to taking their normal classes.

Over the last five years, the number of students classified as English Learners in the state grew by ten percent. And the population is not only growing, it is also diversifying.

“Often there’s a misconception that all of our English Learners are Spanish speakers,” says Nathan Williamson, who oversees all English Learner programs in the state for the Department of Education. “We have 259 different languages, including students with additional needs like refugees or recent immigrants. We also have our migrant students who are moving consistently to find temporary seasonal agriculture work.”

Across the country, EL populations are leaving other states, their first homes (often California, Texas or Arizona), and moving to places like Indiana.

Williamson says, compared to ten or 15 years ago, the population in Indiana has grown exponentially, causing the DOE to ramp up their efforts to assist these programs. But what makes an English learner program successful?

“The best practices start with a very well prepared staff,” says Delia Pompa, a Senior Fellow on Education Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. She says many districts that see a sudden influx of English learners often struggle to meet their needs.

“It doesn’t mean they don’t try to serve them well,” Pompa says. “It means that that’s the number one resource a district would need, personnel, who know how to teach these students and have experiences with them.”

And hiring trained personnel takes money, and this is something the Indiana legislature is starting to notice.

During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers doubled the fund that helps English learner programs around the state from $5 million a year to $10 million a year. Williamson says this increase helps the DOE provide more training sessions and outreach.

But the state budget simultaneously reduced the amount of money given to students that need free/reduced priced lunch, special education services and English learning services– which can include teachers and support staff for EL parents. For districts with large populations of English learners, that cut was significant.

We reported on the effects of this funding change when we visited Goshen Schools, a district with 30 percent of students classified as English learners.

While Goshen is currently an exception in Indiana, there are now more than 57,000 English learners in the state. This is 5.5 percent of Indiana students, and this population continues to grow.

Pompa says a successful EL program needs to have a clear goal for students. And Williamson says, from the state’s perspective, the goal is clear: Get all non-native speakers proficient in English. But he says it can’t happen with just qualified EL teachers, everyone in a district has to believe in the goal.

“The only way we can achieve that goal in a reasonable amount of time is if every member of that school is on board,” Williamson says. “So that takes our general education homeroom teachers, it takes your counselors, it takes your support area staff– not just your EL staff alone. Because we know that in order to develop English you have to have appropriate support and time throughout the school day.”

SBOE Will Address Failing Schools And A-F Growth Tables

The State Board of Education meets Friday for its monthly meeting. It will decide the fate of seven failing schools.

The State Board of Education meets Friday for its monthly meeting. It will decide the fate of seven failing schools. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education meets Friday for its monthly meeting, and will address the plan for a few turnaround schools and cast a final vote on the A-F growth tables.

The board will address intervention at seven failing schools: Arlington, George Washington, Emma Donnan, Emmerich Manual, T.C. Howe and Broad Ripple Magnet schools in Indianapolis Public Schools as well as Theodore Roosevelt in Gary.

WFYI’s Eric Weddle covered a public meeting in Indianapolis Wednesday, where SBOE members heard from students, parents and district officials. Many testified they want to see the schools returned to IPS.

Follow him tomorrow on Twitter for updates on the turnaround discussions.

Another significant vote will be about the growth proficiency table. The vote comes after discussion last month and a 30 day public comment period.

Currently, A-F grades for elementary and middle schools are mainly calculated using the passing rate from the ISTEP+. But an overhaul of the school grading system last year made student growth on the test a bigger part of the calculation.

The vote Friday centers around how the Department of Education will calculate growth, and last meeting they chose Table 24 in this document. Tomorrow the board will cast an official vote on this method.

The board will also decide which of its members will serve on the new ISTEP+ panel, a group of educators, lawmakers and other stakeholders that will design the new version of the state assessment.

$50 Million State Voucher Program Continues To Grow

The Department of Education released its annual choice scholarship program report Thursday, showing participation in the scholarship continues to grow, with almost three percent of students statewide using the scholarships to attend a private school. More than 32,000 students now use scholarships, up from around 4,000 students the first year, 2011-2012.

The choice scholarship program passed the General Assembly in 2011, and the 2011-2012 school year was the first time scholarships were awarded. The scholarships, funded by the state, allow low income students to enroll in private schools.

The 2015 General Assembly allocated up to $50 million for the program for the next two years.

Below are the seven ways a student can qualify for a scholarship. During the first year of the scholarship, the first two ways were the only choices. For the 2012-2013 school year, the legislature added the third. The 2013-2014 school year was the first year all seven pathways were available.

The income requirements are based on free/reduced lunch levels. For a family of four, the 150% level is $67,294 a year and the 200% level is $89,725.

1. After attending a public school for two semesters before receiving scholarship. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

2. Received a scholarship from a different state approved organization. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

3. Received a choice scholarship previously (doesn’t have to be consecutive). Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

4. Student received a choice scholarship the previous year. Family must have an income equal to or below 200% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

5. Student requires special education classes and has an individualized education plan. Family must have an income equal to or below 200% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

6. The public school the student would be required to attend has an F on the state accountability system. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

7. Student has a sibling that received a choice scholarship the previous year. Family must have an income equal to or below 150% of what it takes to qualify for free/reduced lunch.

The scholarships pay for either 50 percent or 90 percent of tuition, depending on the family’s income. For the 2015-2016 school year, 69 percent of the participants received a 90 percent voucher and 31 percent received a 50 percent one.


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