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.

Gary Community Schools Still Faces Budget Woes


Gary Community Schools continue to struggle financially to pay teachers and keep buildings open. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

As Gary Community Schools grapples with a $75 million budget deficit, hard decisions have come to a head. Recently, the Gary School Board members laid off 13 employees and said they will explore running their own transportation system, in order to cut costs.

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

National Scholarship Targets Undocumented Students In Indiana

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)

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

Educators On New ISTEP Panel Want Equity And Consistency

Ayana Wilson-Coles is the only 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.

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.

As we’ve reported, legislation passed during the 2015 establishes a panel of educators, school administrators, parents, lawmakers and other stakeholders.

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.

Continue Reading

Dept. Of Education Receives $5 Million To Attract Teachers

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

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.

State Board of Education To Meet Wednesday

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

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Whicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at April\’s meeting.” credit=”Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana

The State Board of Education meets for its monthly meeting Wednesday, with a fairly light agenda to tackle.

The board will approve the changing of governing body procedures in MSD Washington Township and Kokomo, such as how the school board is elected.

They also have the opportunity to approve technology and construction grants for a large number of school districts.

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.

Program That Pays Students To Pass AP Tests Finding New Funding

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

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.


A Crash Course In Indiana’s School Funding Situation


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.

Listen to the entire show and hear from tax experts and educators about how public schools are struggling to stay afloat. They touched on the rising number of school vouchers, property tax caps, and school funding formula changes.


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

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