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.

State Supreme Court Rules Against Local Teachers’ Union

The Indiana Supreme Court Thursday ruled in a case regarding collective bargaining in one Indiana school district.

The case, Jay Classroom Teachers Association v. Jay School Corporation and Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, looked at how much flexibility a school superintendent has when establishing a teacher salary after the start of the year.

When oral arguments began, we reported on the general question being asked of the court: 

Eric Hylton argued for the teacher’s union, the Jay Classroom Teacher Association, and started his oral argument addressing the issue of principal discretion with setting teacher salaries. He argued that if a teacher is hired after the start of the school year, the principal should not have complete discretion in setting that teacher’s salary. He said the union should still negotiate that salary with the school district.

The union is arguing that there should be tight parameters for a new teacher, like years of experience, that determine salary. The school corporation and The Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (IEERB) say a superintendent should be able to set the salary as long as it is within an already set range.

The question at hand was this: when a superintendent in Jay County offered a salary to a teacher hired midway through the year, it fell within the range previously determined by the teacher’s union. But the union thought they should be able to bargain on this specific case and not let the superintendent choose a salary anywhere in that range.

In her opinion, Chief Justice Loretta Rush explained that the court found the superintendent to be well within his/her right in assigning a salary:

“We conclude, therefore, that the superintendent’s authority was neither unilateral nor unfettered and so did not conflict with the Association’s right to collectively bargain to establish salaries under Indiana Code section 20-29-4-1,” Rush wrote in the opinion.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented the opinion, agreeing with the trial court saying all salaries should be collectively bargained.

What Did Mike Pence Do For Indiana Schools As Governor? Here’s A Look

Governor Pence delivered his State of the State speech in 2016.

Governor Pence delivered his State of the State speech in 2016. (photo credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

Last night, Donald Trump and Indiana governor Mike Pence were chosen by the Republican National Convention as the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Tonight, Pence will take the stage in Cleveland at the 2016 Republican National Convention. He is now, officially, the vice-presidential running mate of Republican nominee Donald Trump.

But before that happens, we want to take a dive into Pence’s education policies in the nearly four years he’s been the governor of Indiana.

Just how much does he have in common with Donald Trump when it comes to schools and education? Definitely not nothing.

We worked with the teams at NPR Politics and NPR Ed to provide insight on how Pence influenced education policy during his term as governor.

Continue Reading

ISTEP Panel Reconsiders December Deadline For New Test

Testing expert Ed Roeber travelled to Indiana Tuesday to speak with the panel re-writing the state's assessment. Roeber encourage the panel to spend at least two years creating and implementing the new assessment system and not rush into it, like Indiana did in 2014.

Testing expert Ed Roeber travelled to Indiana Tuesday to speak with the panel rewriting the state’s assessment. Roeber encourage the panel to spend at least two years creating and implementing the new assessment system and not rush into it, like Indiana did in 2014. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The panel rewriting the state’s assessment met for the third time on Tuesday, and the group is concerned about meeting its December deadline.

The General Assembly created the panel to get recommendations for the ISTEP+ overhaul before the 2017 session. That comprehensive list must be completed by December 2016.

But that only gives the panel four more months to come up with their list of recommendations, and on Tuesday that timeline came into question.

The test is given to third- through eighth-graders and one final time in high school. The state abandoned Common Core Standards in 2014 and wrote its own test.

Ed Roeber is a testing expert based out of Michigan and consulted the state on the 2014 rewrite. He advised against dropping current standards, writing new ones and creating a test that matched those standards all in one year. He said there would be issues with implementing the test. The state also hired him to advise ways to shorten the test.

Today he warned the group against compressing the work into a short time and repeating the mistakes from 2014.

“Get it right,” Roeber said. “I don’t want to come back in a couple years when the next replacement is being talked about.”

But Roeber is back, and in this meeting, he advised the ISTEP+ panel that it takes a minimum of two years to develop a new assessment program, hire a vendor, develop the assessment instruments, field test them, revise the assessment and prepare for the actual test. Other consultants have also given this advice.

The panel repeatedly called on Roeber to answer additional questions about the role of a statewide assessment. Many around the state have discussed using this new version of the ISTEP+ to serve two functions: to give the federal government a summary of what a student learned in a year (how the current ISTEP+ works) and to give teachers a progress report throughout the year of what students are learning (like the NWEA test many schools currently use).

Roeber told the panel the second is not a realistic expectation for this new assessment.

“The state test is not the place to inform a classroom teacher about what kids do and don’t know,” Roeber said.

In the two earlier meetings, the panel heard from testing experts from around the country. Members discussed high stakes testing and classroom impact. So far, they haven’t established any detailed recommendations to include in their report. Continue Reading

School Voucher Program Cost State $18 Million More Than Previous Year

The state's choice scholarship program spent $18 million more last year than the year before.

The state\’s choice scholarship program spent $18 million more last year than the year before. (photo credit: Abhi Sharma / Flickr)

The Indiana Department of Education released an updated report Monday that shows the state’s choice scholarship program, sometimes called school vouchers, cost the state $18 million more than it did last school year.

More than 32,000 students enrolled in the program during the 2015-2016 school year and received state dollars to attend private schools, meaning almost three percent of students in Indiana attend private school using a choice scholarship.

The state spent $131.5 million in scholarships this year, which is $18 million more than last school year.

When the legislature created the program in 2011, advocates claimed it would save the state money. Because the vouchers cover either 50 or 90 percent of the tuition at a private school, depending on the family’s income. Republicans who led the charge in 2011 said the state would spend less money since it’s only funding a portion of the education.

Because of this sentiment, the original legislation mandated that the IDOE calculate the savings using a formula dictated in the law. It said the savings from this program would be redistributed to public schools. The first two years of the program showed a savings of around $4 and 5 million a year, but since the 2013-2014 school year, as the number of students using vouchers grew, it became a deficit. Last school year that deficit was $40 million and this year it jumped to $53 million.

As this number continues to grow, state superintendent Glenda Ritz is calling for a halt to the expansion of the program. In the middle of this year’s legislative session, she asked the General Assembly to look at the effectiveness of the program before continuing to let it grow.

“For that reason, I am calling for a pause on the expansion of school vouchers,” Ritz said in February. “For too long, Indiana has diverted funding from public schools without studying the impact on our traditional school system. It is time for our state legislature to fully study the fiscal and academic impacts that the school voucher system is having on Indiana’s education system.”

During the 2013 legislative session, the qualifications to receive a voucher expanded and a cap on the number of scholarships available was removed. Now, any student who qualifies for the voucher may receive one. We are seeing the enrollment numbers start to level off after exponential growth the first few years.

The legislature doesn’t require the IDOE to generate the report, it only ever mandated that they calculate the savings. During the 2015 session, the General Assembly removed the requirement for the IDOE to calculate this formula, but they say they continue to do it for transparency in the program.

SBOE Vice Chair Sarah O’Brien Steps Down

Sarah O'Brien currently serves as the State Board's vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Sarah O\’Brien currently serves as the State Board\’s vice chair, a position created through legislation passed this session to restructure the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Board of Education vice chair Sarah O’Brien announced Thursday she will resign from her position on the board.

O’Brien says she is stepping down to care for her daughter who was “dealt with a variety of medical issues over the years.”

In a statement, O’Brien said she is proud of the work accomplished by the board during her tenure.

“I have served on this board for over seven and a half years and continue to be proud of the work that has been done to improve education for all Hoosier students,” O’Brien said in a statement. “I strongly believe that we have increased the quality of educational opportunities across our state and have confidence that this board will continue to do so in the years to come. I consider it a great honor to have had the privilege to work alongside all of you and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.”

Former governor Mitch Daniels appointed O’Brien in 2009 to represent the fourth congressional district on the board, which covers Avon, Lafayette and Kokomo. She is a fourth grade teacher in Avon.

Governor Pence reappointed her in 2013, so O’Brien’s replacement will serve the remainder of her term which ends in 2017. The governor will have to appoint her replacement, but they don’t have to be from the fourth congressional district.

O’Brien’s last day on the board will at its August 10 meeting.



USED Grants Waiver To Indiana Schools With Late Title I Funds

The U.S. Department of Education wrote a letter to the Indiana Department of Education Tuesday to allow schools that received Title I funds from the DOE later than normal to use those funds in the following school year.

U.S. Republican Congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita wrote a letter to Secretary of Education John King that requested this last June.

The USED informed Indiana in February that “the State was making several errors in the process, including but not limited to, how IDOE was applying the hold harmless to charter school LEAs.”

Some charter schools were receiving less money, which we reported in September 2015.

Money to make up for this miscalculation became available in March, which many schools said was too late to use for that school year.

That’s when the IDOE and Congressmen Messer and Rokita asked the USED to extend this money offered to schools in March.

“This is the best possible outcome for thousands of Hoosier public school students,” said Congressman Luke Messer in a statement. “Title I money makes sure the most at-risk kids get a fair chance to succeed.  Without the ability of schools to carry over these funds, instruction would have suffered.”

Title I is a federal program that serves kids who generally come from low-income families, and therefore haven’t always had access to the same resources as some of their peers.

Evan Bayh’s Education Record During His Last Senate Term

Evan Bayh speaks with Hilary Clinton in 2008.

Evan Bayh speaks with Hilary Clinton in 2008. (photo credit: Lisa/ flickr)

Former Indiana senator Evan Bayh announced Wednesday he will run for his old seat in the U.S. Senate, facing current U.S. House Rep. Todd Young in November. Bayh will take over the Democratic side of the ticket after Baron Hill dropped out Monday. The two are running for Republican Sen. Dan Coats seat after he retires in January.

Bayh served as governor of Indiana before spending 12 years in the Senate.

EdWeek took a look at Bayh’s involvement in education legislation when he served in congress.

Bayh, who left the Senate in 2011, joined a fight to help save Race to the Top, the federal competitive-grant program that was one of the early, signature education initiatives from President Barack Obama’s administration. Back in July 2010, for example, he joined 12 of his then-colleagues in the Senate in opposing budget cuts that would have stripped money out of Race to the Top and other administration priorities.

The cuts approved by the House of Representatives and opposed by Bayh and fellow senators aimed to eliminate $800 million in federal spending—$500 million would have come from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund (which backed teacher pay-for-performance programs), and $100 million from the charter school program. He was an ally of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., during this budget fight, in which Race to the Top funding ultimately prevailed.

Bayh will be the Democratic nominee for the seat, pending approval by the state Democratic party on July 22.

State Charter School Loan Program Awards Last Grants

The State Board of Education wrapped up its two-year charter school loan program last week. But in that program’s final round, only five charter schools applied.

The 2015 General Assembly created the program, allocating $50 million in loans to give to charter schools over two years.

In the first year of the program, charter schools received $40 million in loans – $10 million remained. In last week’s allocations, $5 million went to the five charter schools that applied.

The remaining $5 million goes back into the state’s general fund.

At the SBOE meeting in Muncie, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said the law mandates the board to allocate money to applicants, but she never agreed with the program.

“Philosophically, I really feel we need more funding to public education and I would have preferred that $50 million to be used in another manner,” Ritz said.

But SBOE member David Freitas said he supports it.

“I believe where there is good education going on I believe that we as a state should support it,” Freitas said.

The money is a loan that must be repaid, and it comes out of the state tuition support that all public schools receive.

When Half Of Your School Speaks Spanish, Try Something New


Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school's few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school's new dual language immersion program.

Elias Rojas is a first grade teacher at West Noble Primary school in Ligonier. As one of the school’s few bilingual teachers, he volunteered to participate in the school\’s new dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Indiana’s schools are seeing increased enrollment in the number of English learners, pushing many schools and communities to adapt to the growing population. This can often mean there are multiple languages spoken in a classroom.

One place where English and Spanish are both heard is Elias Rojas’ first grade class at West Noble Primary School. The school is in Ligonier, a small town North of Ft. Wayne. In the district, 50 percent of the students are Latino.

This makes Rojas, who grew up in a Spanish speaking home in Chicago, an asset to the district.

“I understand how these kids come in, I understand the kind of households they come from,” he says. “I understand the fears they may be feeling, and I think I have a good understanding of how their brain is working because at one time I was right there with them.”

Formally Introducing Two Languages In The Classroom

Right now Rojas teaches these students in English and speaks Spanish if someone needs extra instruction. But starting in January, this is going to change. Rojas’ school, West Noble Primary, applied for and won a state grant for a dual language immersion program.

This kind of program means half of the school day is taught in English and half the day in Spanish. The grant is part of a pilot program approved by the 2015 General Assembly. This is the second year money was awarded, and West Noble received $85,000 to launch the new program.

West Noble Primary’s new dual language immersion program will be in two of its eight kindergarten classes. Each class will have a lead teacher, who speaks English, and a Spanish speaking teacher who works in both classrooms. The instruction, materials and conversations with teachers will be split evenly between English and Spanish.

50 percent of the students at West Noble Primary School in Ligonier are Latino, making it a perfect place to start a dual language immersion program.

50 percent of the students at West Noble Primary School in Ligonier are Latino, making it a perfect place to start a dual language immersion program. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting

Principal Brian Shepherd is excited to start it, but knows that designing new curriculum and procedures for some of his teachers is daunting.

“We’re going to get through this together, we know it’s going to be difficult,” Shepherd said. “But uncomfortable makes you grow. You don’t go through life being comfortable. So this is the right thing to do, not the easy thing to do.”

Shepherd’s taught in Ligonier schools for decades. He remembers the exact moment when he realized working with English learners would become a crucial part of his job.

In 1987 I was hired as 4th grade teacher and I can remember when the first little girl came into my room, Maria, and spoke no English,” Shepherd said. “I did not know what to do for her. I went down to the kindergarten room, got a picture book and we started pointing to pictures…then the school was very proactive and the EL program was born.”

The Next Phase For Education English Learners

For years, the English learner program served many of the Latino students that came to West Noble. But now that 50 percent of the kids come from Spanish speaking homes, Shepherd and the district decided to try something new with the immersion program.

Shepherd and the district’s EL director, Candice Holbrook, are hopeful this program will make an impact outside of the school.

“It really is reflective of the community that we serve and that we live in,” Holbrook said. “It’s an opportunity not only to promote bi-literacy but promote really bringing the community together.”

Ligonier’s tiny, a few thousand people. So a dual language immersion program in two kindergarten classes can actually make a difference.

Rojas says he’d like to see the Latino and white populations integrate more, because now, many sports split along ethnic lines as well as the churches.

“So then you have St. Patrick’s, which is right behind our school, which is where i attend and you have all of the Hispanic population pretty much,” Rojas said. “I would say of all the Hispanic population, probably 98 percent attend there.”

Rojas volunteered to teach a dual language immersion class, because he knows its benefits. He grew up in a similar program in Chicago, where being Latino was common and speaking two languages was celebrated. It wasn’t until he attended Indiana Wesleyan University that he realized that wasn’t the norm.

“That’s when I realized ‘Oh, I am a minority’,” Rojas said. “Until then, obviously I knew my ethnicity. I knew my heritage, I knew I spoke two languages. It was very much a part of my town, my city, so I didn’t feel like I stuck out.”

And Rojas wants his students, Latino and white, to have the same confidence around people from different backgrounds.

“I want them to feel equipped with and have the mentality to have a diverse mentality,” Rojas said. “To have them not see a minority and not say that’s a minority. That is a person.”

What Education Laws Go Into Effect July 1?

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr)

Most of the legislation passed by the General Assembly last session goes into affect July 1. Following is a list of this year’s new laws.

HEA 1002- Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship Program and Fund

This new program aims to help attract more people into teaching in Indiana classrooms. The program awards 200 college students up to $7,500 in tuition assistance each every year, as long as they study education and commit to teaching in Indiana. Students can start receiving the scholarship next summer. Continue Reading

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