Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Eric Weddle, WFYI

Bill Collector To Target IPS Families For Unpaid Textbook Fees

A range of text book fees at Indianapolis Public Schools for the 2016-17 school year.

A range of text book fees at Indianapolis Public Schools for the 2016-17 school year. (photo credit: Indianapolis Public Schools)

Families in Indianapolis Public Schools who have not paid textbook rental fees will soon be hearing from a collection agency.

The IPS Board voted unanimously Thursday to hire a company to collect on the outstanding bills.

More than 3,000 IPS parents have delinquent textbook fees from last school year. That has left more than a half million dollar deficit for the district, officials say.

More than 5,500 bills were sent for the 2016-17 year for a total of $846,221 in textbook rental fees. But as of this month, 3,213 parents had not paid last year’s fee leaving a deficit of $550,693.

Textbook rental fees can range from $100 to $200 per student each year depending on the grade.  A majority of IPS students qualify for free textbook through a state reimbursement program for low-income families.

“We want to ensure that fees do get paid when families can pay it,” IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says.

The Statewide Credit Association of Indianapolis will try to collect on the outstanding bills as part of a $22,000 contract with IPS. The company is authorized to send three letters to each family requesting payment.

After this phase, legal action is possible — but that would require a separate approval by the board, says Weston Young, district chief financial manager.

IPS Board President Mary Ann Sullivan urged the district to continue lobbying state lawmakers for more textbook funding. The Generally Assembly recently approved a two-year state budget with $39 million for textbook reimbursements for each year.

“It is not pleasant to to think about having to collect these fees,” Sullivan says of hiring a collection agency. “I remember paying those fees and it is significant.”

School districts contracting with a bill collector is not new.

The Statewide Credit Association handles collection services for seven Marion County schools districts and 135 school districts statewide. The company reports a  78 percent to 92 percent recovery rate, according to IPS officials.

IPS expects to collect 50 percent to 78 percent of the 2016-17 bills through the letter writing phase of the collection process, says Young.

The Statewide Credit Association will charge IPS $7 for each unpaid bill.

IPS officials say families will have an easier time paying for text books and other expenses in the 2017-18 school year. A new website will soon be launched that allows families to use a credit card for various school expenses, Young says.

Families will receive textbook rental bills during the first few weeks of the new school year. Classes begin July 31.

Study of Indiana Voucher Program Empowers Advocates, Opponents

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, has been chair of the House Education Committee since 2011 when the General Assembly passed the law to create the private school voucher system. (Credit: General Assembly)

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, has been chair of the House Education Committee since 2011 when the General Assembly passed the law to create the private school voucher system. (Credit: General Assembly)

Results from the first-ever study of Indiana’s school voucher system found negative academic effects among low-income students in math, but also showed the same students could match or outperform public school peers in English – if they remained in the private school long enough.

The data set off a wave of response in the state and nation. Critics and champions of the controversial program used the results to back their notions of whether private school vouchers benefit students who leave public schools.

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Pittsboro Teen Returns To National Braille Challenge For The Win

 

Mitchell Bridwell will compete in the national Braille Challenge, a contest focused on reading and writing Braille. The contest is an attempt to improve the unemployment rate among blind people, by encouraging Braille literacy.

Mitchell Bridwell will compete in the national Braille Challenge, a contest focused on reading and writing Braille. The contest is an attempt to improve the unemployment rate among blind people, by encouraging Braille literacy. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI News)

Mitchell Bridwell is a voracious reader.

The Pittsboro teen made his way through some Charles Dickens but would rather spend time inside the worlds of Rick Riordan or J. K. Rowling.

To make it through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he’ll have to run his fingertips through six volumes of the braille edition.

But for Mitchell, he’d much rather dig into modern fiction by over smoothly running his fingertips over tiny dots of punctured paper than listening to any audio book or voiceover software.

“I’m not sure if je ne sais quoi would be the right word, but I think that works for braille,” he says while sitting on his couch.

It’s safe to say that Bridwell’s braille reading skills are known nationally. This weekend, he’ll join three other students from the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to compete at the national Braille Challenge contest in Los Angeles.

To get there, the four beat out 1,100 braille readers and writers in preliminary regional events across the US and Canada. Only 50 students, ages six to 19, made the finals.

In braille — words and letters are formed within units of space known as braille cells. A full braille cell is two parallel rows of three raised dots. Continue Reading

4 Former Low-Performing Private Schools OK’ed To Take New Vouchers

Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry voted against giving four private schools waivers to accept new vouchers from the Choice Scholarship Program during the June 7, 2017, board meeting in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFY News)

Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry voted against giving four private schools waivers to accept new vouchers from the Choice Scholarship Program during the June 7, 2017, board meeting in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Eric Weddle/WFY News)

The Indiana State Board of Education approved four private schools with a history of low performance and academic failure to accept publicly funded vouchers to cover tuition for incoming students during a meeting Wednesday.

The schools had lost their ability to enroll new students in the Choice Scholarship Program because they had been rated a D or F on the state’s accountability system for at least two consecutive years.

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Indy’s Al Hubbard Bows Out Of Consideration For No. 2 U.S. Education Job

Indianapolis philanthropist and school reform advocate Al Hubbard was considered to be a top nomination for U.S. Education Department deputy secretary. (photo credit: DePauw University)

Indianapolis philanthropist and school reform advocate Al Hubbard was considered to be a top nomination for U.S. Education Department deputy secretary. (photo credit: DePauw University)

Indianapolis philanthropist and school reform advocate Al Hubbard has taken himself out of consideration for the nomination for U.S. Education Department deputy secretary.

Hubbard told WFYI News he’s been undergoing the vetting process for the country’s No. 2 education job for months but the requirements of the Office of Government Ethics would have caused financial complications for his family.

“It would have been extremely costly to us. Once they made it clear what we were going to have to do, we concluded that we couldn’t justify doing it,” Hubbard tells WFYI. “And we were very upset about it, sorry about it, ’cause we were very enthusiastic about it.”

Hubbard’s withdrawal and that he was expected to be nominated soon for the position was first reported by Politico Saturday. The Washington, D.C.-based news site also reported that with Hubbard out of consideration, “the Trump administration is essentially starting from scratch in filling the key spot.”

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McCormick: ‘Concern’ 2 State Board Of Education Seats Still Vacant

The Indiana State Board of Education. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

The Indiana State Board of Education. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

With two seats sit vacant on Indiana’s education policy-creating body, the state’s highest ranking education official is concerned.

As Gary Community Schools prepares for a state-hired emergency manager to take control, the seat on the state education board that represents the district remains vacant.

The same goes for East Chicago Schools as it faces a lead contamination crisis in the community.

The Indiana Board of Education member from the 1st Congressional District represents both areas. But that member, Eddie Melton, resigned from the board in November, after being elected a Democrat state senator.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, who took office in January, has yet to appoint someone to the vacant seat.

“It is a concern,” says Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public instruction and board chair. “I think the bigger picture is we want to make sure each district has a voice. I know the governor’s office also feels that urgency.”

The 9th District seat sits vacant, as well. Lee Ann Kwiatkowski resigned after she joined the department of education as McCormick’s chief of staff.

In all, 11 members sit on the board. The governor appoints most members. McCormick says having only nine members can cause slow down board business.

Earlier this month during a regular board meeting, one member was absent, leaving eight members to vote on a series of actions. State law requires six “yes” votes for an action to pass.

So when members cast a 5-3 vote to grant waivers to let formerly failing private schools become eligible for school vouchers — no action was taken and the waivers were not granted, due to a lack of votes.

Last month, Holcomb signed the law that created the waivers to help once-failings schools speed up their acceptance back into the Choice Scholarship program.

A spokeswoman for Holcomb’s office says they are working to fill the vacancies.

Since 2015, the 11-member board consists of the following members: eight appointed by the governor; one appointed by Speaker of the House; one appointed by President Pro Tempore of the Senate; and the state superintendent. No more than five members of the board can be from the same political party.

Failing Virtual Charter School Escapes Closure But Will Shrink

Stuart Udell, the CEO of K12 Inc., the country’s largest operator of for-profit charter schools, answers questions from members of the Indiana Board of Education during a hearing about the failing Hoosier Academies Virtual School on May 10, 2017 at the University of Evansville. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Stuart Udell, the CEO of K12 Inc., the country’s largest operator of for-profit charter schools, answers questions from members of the Indiana Board of Education during a hearing about the failing Hoosier Academies Virtual School on May 10, 2017 at the University of Evansville. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

The long failing Hoosier Academies Virtual School avoided closure from the State Board of Education at a hearing Wednesday.

Instead, the board approved a lesser punishment – a cut back on the number of students who can enroll this fall.

The online school became eligible for state sanctions, including shutdown, in early 2015. But it’s taken more than two years and three additional state education board meetings for the members to decide to take action.

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Voucher Schools Lose Bid For Waivers Under New Law

Jennifer McCormick leads the State Board of Education meeting May 10. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

Jennifer McCormick leads the State Board of Education meeting May 10. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

The Indiana State Board of Education denied waivers for three voucher-accepting private schools to speed up their eligibility to continue to accept voucher students.

A private school that receives D or F school grades for two or more consecutive years is no longer eligible to accept students who use vouchers to pay for tuition.

A law just signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb allows private schools to ask the State Board of Education for a waiver after one year if they can show academic improvements.

The board voted 5-3 in favor of approving the waivers for each school but state law requires six “yes” votes for action to be taken – so it failed.

Board member David Freitas says the legislation appears clear.

“So if you look at the law, they meet all the requirements of the law,” he says. “What basis would we deny it?”

But member Gordon Hendry cautioned the approval, noting that changes to the state’s A-F accountability scale last year reward a student’s academic growth. Those changes, he says, provide just a snapshot of the schools’ improvements without a second year to compare it.

The schools who requested the waiver each had three consecutive Ds: Central Christian Academy in Indianapolis, currently rated A; Turning Point School in Indianapolis, currently rated A; and Lutheran South Unity School in Fort Wayne, currently rated B.

John Elcesser of Indiana Non-Public Education Association emerged nearly an hour after the board’s vote to make public comment. The three schools seeking the waiver, Elcesser says, were part of the impetus for the legislation.

It’s unclear if the the schools will request the board to reconsider granting waivers but the statute is silent regarding resubmission request from a school that was previously denied.

After Years Of Second Chances, Indiana Online School Remains Chronically Failing

Anna Allman laughs with daughter Piper as they review German language words as part of Piper’s Hoosier Virtual Academy foreign language course at the Mooresville Public Library on April 18, 2017. Allman says she’d be devastated if the school was closed because “individual students that are being positively impacted -- such as our family.” (Eric Weddle/WFYI News)

Anna Allman laughs with daughter Piper as they review German language words as part of Piper’s Hoosier Virtual Academy foreign language course at the Mooresville Public Library on April 18, 2017. Allman says she’d be devastated if the school was closed because “individual students that are being positively impacted — such as our family.” (Eric Weddle/WFYI News)

Hoosier Academies Virtual School was near the brink of closure by the Indiana State Board of Education in March 2015 when the board opted for a one-year delay on casting a verdict.

Then, there was a call for another delay.

Now, more than two years since Indiana’s first online charter school became eligible for state intervention due to chronic failure, the state board will consider whether to shutter it or take a less severe type of intervention during a meeting Wednesday in Evansville.

“It’s unfortunate it’s been this many years,” says recently elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction and board chair Jennifer McCormick about the school’s ongoing academic failures. “But it is what it is and we have to take some action.”

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State Cancels 2 Schools Planned By Charter Schools USA

Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, center, celebrates an academic recognition for Bonita Springs Charter School in Bonita Springs, Fla. in February 2017. (Credit: Charter Schools USA)

Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, center, celebrates an academic recognition for Bonita Springs Charter School in Bonita Springs, Fla. in February 2017. (Credit: Charter Schools USA)

A state board that authorizes charter schools voted Monday to cancel plans for a group of Indianapolis business professionals to open schools in Marion and Clark counties.

The reason?

Florida-based Charter Schools USA, the would-be manager, had ceased communicating with the Indiana Charter School Board for nearly a year and missed a required deadline to identify a facility for one of the schools, according to board staff.

“Because of the inability to either meet the deadline and/or even give a reason for not meeting the deadline or trying to postpone the deadline we recommend the charters be revoked,” said James Betley, the board’s executive director, during a public meeting.

The board agreed and voted 5-0 to cancel the charters.

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