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.

State Considers Emergency Funding For Gary Schools

Gary Community Schools are struggling to meet payroll and other financial obligations, and is looking to the state for help.

Gary Community Schools is struggling to meet payroll and other financial obligations, and it’s looking to the state for help. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board recommends the state grant Gary Community Schools a loan to cover teacher paychecks and other costs until the end of March.

The board unanimously approved the recommendation last week, and the NWI Times reports the school district’s debt includes an $8.6 million operating deficit.

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This Week At The Statehouse: A Slow Start To The Second Half

In a 41-9 vote, state senators pushed ahead a two-year, $32 million proposal that would modestly expand state-funded preschool beginning July 2017.

Pre-K continues to be one of the most debated education bills this session. (photo credit=”Sonia Hooda / Flickr

At the halfway point in the legislative session, the bills passed in the first half, by House or Senate, move on to the other chamber.  So this week, a few education bills that made that cut got their first hearing in the House or Senate education committees.

The House committee only heard two Senate bills this week, one regarding emergency medications in schools and another on 529 savings plans.

Any amendments or votes on those won’t come until next week at the earliest.

Seven major House education bills got their first hearing Wednesday in the Senate’s Education and Career Development committee. These include teacher background checks, prayer in school and suicide prevention training. These bills could start moving forward in the process, with amendments or votes, as early as next week.

Part of the pre-K expansion bill is facing opposition because of a provision that says acceptance into the On My Way Pre-K program also means acceptance into the state’s private school voucher system. More than a dozen people, including a House lawmaker, testified against that portion of HB1004 Wednesday.

Child advocacy groups are still asking lawmakers to increase funding for pre-K to $50 million. The House bill currently proposes a $10 million funding increase.

Senate lawmakers approved their own version of preschool expansion with a smaller $3 million bump.

Help us help you! We want to know what you want covered. Have a question or story idea? A specific policy that deserves more explanation? Reach out! Leave a comment or reach reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen at pbalonon@indiana.edu and reporter Claire McInerny at clmciner@indiana.edu.

A Tale Of Two Pre-K Bills: What Is The Future Of Early Ed?

Students at a pre-kindergarten camp in Avon, Ind., play a counting game. Many are calling on the legislature to expand the current pre-k pilot program to help more kids. (Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

Students at a preschool camp in Avon, Ind., play a counting game. Many are calling on the legislature to expand the current pre-K pilot program to help more kids. (Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

The second half of the legislative session begins this week, and the House and Senate have two very different bills to expand state funded pre-K.

Both bills passed out of their original chambers and are now being considered by the opposite chamber of the statehouse. Before the session, both Republicans and Democrats supported expanding the pilot program and allocating more money for preschool scholarships for low-income children.

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State Rep. To DeVos: Hire More Educators On Your Staff

Representative Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to hire a public school educator as her Deputy Secretary. (photo credit: Indiana House of Representatives)

Rep. Melanie Wright (D-Yorktown) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to hire a public school educator as her Deputy Secretary. (photo credit: Indiana House of Representatives)

Indiana Rep. Melanie Wright (D-Yorktown) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Thursday, asking for DeVos to hire more educators on her staff.

Wright’s letter asks DeVos to hire a deputy secretary with extensive experience in public schools. She says this request follows up on concerns expressed during Betsy Devos’ confirmation hearing: Devos has no experience in public education, which she now oversees.

Wright says she respects that the president can appoint anyone he wants, and she can’t change the confirmation. But she does hope DeVos will add an educator to her staff.

“I think it’s important that we harness the energy of our educators, our teachers, our teacher leaders, our building principals, and our superintendents,” Wright says. “Because they are on the front lines of how we are battling poverty, and in some ways the addiction issue.”

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Report: Despite Gains, Hoosier Children’s Well-Being A Mixed Bag

Overall, children in Indiana are surviving, but not thriving, according to a new report from the Indiana Youth Institute. (elementalPaul/Flickr)

Overall, children in Indiana are “surviving, not thriving,” according to a new report from the Indiana Youth Institute. (elementalPaul/Flickr)

The Indiana Youth Institute released its annual Kids Count data book Monday. The report measures children’s well-being in five categories: family, economics, education, health and safety.

It highlights the well-being of children in preschool through college – and finds a mixed bag. Overall, it finds, Indiana’s children are “surviving, not thriving.”

We took a dive into how Indiana’s students and school systems measure up.

Major takeaways:

  • About one in five (19.8 percent) of Indiana high schoolers has seriously considered suicide.
  • One in five Hoosier kids lives in poverty, with more than half (50.6 percent) of single-mother households living in poverty.
  • One in six families struggles to afford and find child care for their kids.
  • Indiana’s rate of school bullying has dropped below national levels.
  • The number of homeless students decreased for the first time in a decade.
  • Students on state scholarships are succeeding in college.

Child Care And Preschool Issues

The report shows one in six families struggles to afford and find child care for their kids. The state offers vouchers to qualifying families for child care. The number of requests for that has decreased – from 59,000 in 2014 to almost 50,000 in 2015.

State funded preschool for 4- and 5-year-olds continues to be a contentious issue in Indiana, as the legislature and early education organizations continue to battle over a possible funding increase for the state-funded pre-K pilot program.

About One In 20 Students Drops Out Of School

In the class of 2014, about one in 20, or 3,400 students, dropped out before graduating (4.6 percent). Low-income youth are more likely to drop out than their higher-income peers. Nationally, about one in 15 high school students (6.5 percent) drops out before graduation.

The report shows the number of high school dropouts continues to decrease since 2007. At that time, 11 percent of students dropped out before graduating. The numbers do fluctuate slightly from year to year.

(Indiana Youth Institute)

(Indiana Youth Institute)

State Scholarship Helps Students Succeed In College

The Evan Bayh 21st Century Scholarship program is a state-funded college scholarship that recruits low-income Indiana students in middle school, and keeps them on a college-bound academic track. They receive money for college once they graduate and maintain their place in the program.

The Kids Count report shows that students receiving the scholarship are more likely to graduate high school with an honors diploma and attend college, compared to other students of the same socioeconomic background.

Once in college, most scholarship recipients are on track. About 72 percent have no need to take remedial classes. This success rate is higher than other low-income students without the scholarship.

This Week At The Statehouse: Pre-K Funding & State Superintendent

Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) argues against the House Republicans proposed 2017-19 budget on Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Indiana Statehouse (Credit: Indiana House Democrats)

Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) argues against the House Republicans proposed 2017-19 budget on Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Indiana Statehouse. (Credit: Indiana House Democrats)

This week marked the last committee meetings of the first half of the session, as both chambers scramble to wrap up any bills they want to move forward into the second half of the session. Monday and Tuesday are the last days both chambers can approve a bill if they want it to move forward. The legislature will then take the rest of the week off and return the following Monday.

Appointed State Superintendent Gets Surprising Vote

A bill that would change the state superintendent position from an elected official to one appointed by the governor was surprisingly shot down in the Senate education committee this week. Republicans have long advocated to make the position appointed, so it was surprising when 17 Republicans voted against the bill.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) voted against the bill and says it could result in major policy swings each time a new governor enters office.

“In the long run, that will be more harmful to education, than some kind of stable, checks and balances, you have to fight each other over this to get a result done,” Kenley says.

Later that day, the House passed a similar version of the bill, which will be sent to the same committee that killed the Senate version.

A Senate rule says a bill that is similar in language to a defeated bill may not be heard again in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R- Ft. Wayne, says the House bill could still come into the Senate if someone dramatically changed the language.

Additional Pre-K Funding Package Reduced By $7 Million

The Senate Appropriations committee this week dramatically scaled back the increase many at the statehouse and beyond are asking for to the state-funded pre-K program. 

The current pre-K pilot program, which served around 3,700 in the first two years in five counties, costs $10 million a year. Many Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, Democrats and business leaders asked for a doubling of that amount. An amendment authored by Kenley reduced the increase to $3 million.

A similar bill is still alive in the House.

Students With Disabilities Benefit From First 2017 Bill Signed Into Law

A proposal that eases transportation for students with disabilities is one of a few bills that has instantly garnered bipartisan buy-in and momentum.

House Enrolled Act 1507 lets groups that serve developmentally disabled students rent public school buses for private events or trips that are not state-sponsored. For example, a team of Special Olympic athletes could now use the bus from their local district to travel for a competition. This was not allowed before, as law required only “state-supported agencies” to use a public school bus.

“This bill moved to my desk quickly with bipartisan support, because it is a common-sense, quick fix to an existing law that gives Indiana schools the flexibility they need to better serve students with disabilities,” Gov. Holcomb said in a statement.

The law, which went into effect Thursday after Holcomb signed it, was authored by Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) and sponsored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso).

Dems’ Last Ditch Amendments To House Budget Fail

House Democrats have fought almost all legislative proposals this session that would give charter schools, virtual schools and private schools using vouchers from receiving any new financial or accountability benefits.

Indianapolis Democratic Reps. Greg Porter and Ed DeLaney offered up a slew of education changes Thursday on the House floor as the 2017-2019 budget was debated.

They called for: cutting both the $52.6 million funding for ISTEP and $25 million for the charter school grant program; shutting down the State Charter School Board; and retaining tuition funding for virtual schools at 90 percent per student instead of the proposed 100 percent in the budget bill.

DeLaney urged lawmakers to cease the ISTEP and the next generation ILEARN exam during the past two months.

On Thursday, these amendments failed mostly along party lines. On Monday the House will vote to approve the budget.

‘Prayer In School’ Bill Gains Support

A bill preventing discrimination of students expressing religious beliefs in school passed out of a committee this week and goes to the full House floor for a full vote. 

If made into law, schools would have to provide opportunity for students to express their own religious beliefs during events where other students are speaking. The Department of Education and state attorney would be required to provide a “model policy” on these issues for schools to adopt.

Senate Appropriations Committee Reduces Funding For Pre-K Pilot

Sen. Kenley, R-Noblesville, reduced funding for a pre-k expansion bill, from $10 million a year to $3 million a year.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, reduced funding for a pre-K expansion bill, from $10 million a year to $3 million a year. (photo credit: Bill Shaw / Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A Senate committee voted Thursday to reduce the amount of additional money given to state-funded preschool. Democrats and many Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, advocated for a $10 million increase, but an amendment written by Senate Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, reduces the increase for On My Way Pre-K to $3 million.

Kenley’s amendment, passed by the appropriations committee 12-1, dramatically reduces the money to expand state-funded pre-K education, and it allocates money to a preschool program that would be taught at home. Kenley says the program is “not homeschooling.”

Holcomb asked the legislature for a $10 million a year increase to On My Way Pre-K before the session started, but Kenley says he doesn’t want to expand the program significantly until a longitudinal study measures success.

Kenley also has philosophical differences with state-funded pre-K.

“All it does is alleviate the responsibility of the parent to prepare the child for education,” Kenley says.

The amendment also allocates $1 million to provide assistance for people who are homeschooling a preschool-aged child.

In a statement released after the appropriations committee reduced the governor’s plan, Holcomb’s spokesperson, Stephanie Wilson, underlined his commitment to state-funded pre-K expansion.

“It’s a key component of the governor’s legislative agenda and one that will contribute directly to the state’s efforts to build a 21st century skilled and ready workforce by ensuring Hoosier students have a strong beginning to their education,” Wilson said.

When the state launched On My Pre-K in 2015, Indiana became one of the last states to have a state-funded preschool program. The pre-K pilot program gives scholarships to low-income families to attend an already established, high quality preschool.

But Indiana still offers far fewer education services for low-income preschools than most states in the country: The pilot is small, serving about 3,700 students in the three years since its launch.

But Kenley says the state does supports its preschoolers.

“There’s already $400 million a year that’s being spent on programs for kids under the age of 5, including the fact that 37 school corporations have a full pre-K program,” Kenley says.

But many of these pre-K programs aren’t free. Almost all school districts charge tuition until a child reaches K-12.

This bill, with the amendment, must pass the full Senate by Tuesday, the deadline for the first half of the session. If the full Senate passes it, it heads to the House for consideration.

Senate Ed Committee Holds Last Meeting At Session Midway Point

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Senate education committee wrapped up the the session’s first half Wednesday.

SB 250, which dealt with graduation cohorts, was not heard and therefore does not go forward this session. Both SB 407, which is a general education bill, and SB 498, dealing with teacher compensation, will go forward to the full House.

Next Tuesday marks the end of the first half of the session. All Senate and House bills must pass through their initial chambers to continue in the second half.

The Senate education committee will reconvene March 8, when it will begin hearing bills passed out of the House.

Senate Kills Bill To Appoint State Superintendent

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, left, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, are in support of making the state superintendent an appointed position. But today, the Senate killed a bill that would make that happy.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne), left, and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), are in support of making the state superintendent an appointed position. But today, the Senate killed a bill that would make that happen. (photo credit: Dan Goldblatt / Indiana Public Media)

Republican and Democratic senators voted down a bill Monday that would have changed the Superintendent of Public Instruction from an elected position to an appointed one.

This session, both the House and Senate sponsored bills to make the state’s highest education official an appointed position, and Monday, the Senate voted down its version of the bill, with 17 Republicans joining all of the Democrats in voting against it. The final vote was 23-26.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long spoke in favor of the bill, saying the head of the Department of Education should be chosen by the governor, just like every other department head in the state.

“Only 13 states, including Indiana, elect their superintendent, and only nine, including Indiana, make it a partisan election,” Long says.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) voted against the bill and says it could result in major policy swings each time a new governor enters office.

“In the long run, that will be more harmful to education, than some kind of stable, checks and balances, you have to fight each other over this to get a result done,” Kenley says.

Making the state superintendent an appointed position rather than an elected official has been a long term goal for Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb and many of his predecessors.

This issue was a discussion point in previous sessions, and prompted a dramatic discussion because many Democrats said it was a way for Republicans to get rid of former state superintendent Glenda Ritz, who often clashed with Republicans. But supporters of the bill this year say the desire to make the position appointed was bigger than one person.

Later in the day Monday, the similar House Bill 1005 passed out of the House
to the Senate by a vote of 68-29.

House Speaker and author Brian Bosma refused to say whether his
legislation was doomed by the Senate vote. Senate rules dictate, if a
bill receives as many no votes as SB 179 did, nothing similar may be
heard in either chamber.

“Somehow, someway, some of those items come back together,” he said
about legislation in years past that has faced a similar defeat in one
chamber.

Bosma said there are ways to bypass the Senate to get the legislation
onto the governor’s desk, such as adding the language into the House
budget.

House Budget Proposal Eliminates Teacher Bonus Program

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Statehouse. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana House of Representatives revealed its first draft of the state budget for the next two years Wednesday, which eliminates the teacher bonus program and re-invests that money into general K-12 spending.

The teachers performance grants are based mainly on how students perform on state tests. In 2016, the formula that calculates these bonuses created a huge disparity, with some teachers getting thousands of dollars and some teachers receiving nothing. The House budget gets rid of the program and re-invests the $40 million into general K-12 spending.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who also heads the Senate budget committee, says he disagrees with eliminating the state funded teacher bonus program.

“That’s a concept that I think is pretty important, and I hope we can develop it properly. This last year, two years’ experience, was bad but it was an unforeseen occurrence,” Kenley says.

The disparity in the bonuses for the highest rated teachers grew after another statewide dip in ISTEP+ scores. The formula allocates less money to teachers in lower scoring districts.

To keep the program and fix the disparity, lawmakers like Kenley would have to re-write the law.

The House’s budget proposal would also increase overall school funding by almost 3 percent. The increases also apply to special education and English learner funding. It would also double funding to the pre-K pilot program.

The budget bill is now open to amendments.

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