Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Rachel Morello

Rachel Morello comes to StateImpact by way of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked for various news and education-related organizations across the country - but no matter the locale, you’re sure to find her sporting a Packers jersey and tuning into “Car Talk.” You can follow her on Twitter @morellomedia.

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Where Do Gubernatorial Candidates Stand on Education Issues?

It may be more than a year away, but the 2016 race for Indiana governor is already shaping up to be an interesting contest.

Since the end of the General Assembly‘s annual legislative session just a few weeks ago, a number of candidates have declared their intentions to run. A number of veteran politicians are ramping up campaigns on both sides of the aisle.

What could the race mean for Hoosier education? Let’s take a look at the track records of those who have signed up for the big race.


Mike Pence

Current Indiana Governor Mike Pence will run for a second term. (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Current Indiana Governor Mike Pence will run for a second term. (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Current Governor Mike Pence plans to formally announce his bid for re-election in June, Indiana GOP chairman Jeff Cardwell said Monday.

“Gov. Mike Pence is a conservative leader and dedicated public servant who always puts Indiana first,” Cardwell said in a statement. “He followed through on his promise to put education first this legislative session by making an historic investment in our children, teachers and schools.”

As an incumbent, Pence will be able to note a number of moves that most would agree have proven beneficial for the state, including the establishment of On My Way Pre-K, Indiana’s first state-funded preschool pilot program, and an increased focus on career and technical education. He has also been vocal on the issues of school choice and charter schools.

But, the governor will also need to defend many education-related decisions that have split voters. And he’s been a key player in the saga that is the State Board of Education, creating and later disbanding what some would call a shadow agency to the state Department of Education, the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

Earlier in the year, many had suspected Pence might make a go at the Republican bid for the presidential nomination. Now, the governor has 18 months left on the job to make his case to voters why they should extend his presence at the helm of the Hoosier state. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith reports that history is on Pence’s side – it’s been 40 years since an incumbent Indiana governor wasn’t elected two consecutive terms.


John Gregg

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg speaks at a press conference on the steps of the Indiana statehouse in 2012. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg speaks at a press conference on the steps of the Indiana statehouse in 2012. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

If Gregg’s name looks familiar, that’s because it appeared on the ticket in 2012. The Democrat and former Indiana House Speaker announced his second run just a day after the conclusion of the “education session,” focusing on his desire to better the state’s economy for the future of Hoosier students.

“Especially as the president of Vincennes University, I understood how important Indiana’s reputation was in attracting good jobs to our state, so our graduates could stay here at home,” Gregg said in a video announcement.

Back in 2012, Gregg called for increased access to early education for middle-income families, proposing a preschool pilot similar to the one that began in five Indiana counties earlier this year. He was also vocal about the need to raise the high school graduation rate and make college more affordable. Whether these remain the focal points of his education agenda remains to be seen as the campaign continues.

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Indiana Hasn’t Heard The Last Of Former Supt. Tony Bennett

We at StateImpact have many recurring education stories that will presumably continue for some time to come: standardized testing, teacher evaluations, school accountability…the list goes on.

Former state superintendent Tony Bennett delivers a speech in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Former state superintendent Tony Bennett delivers a speech in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

One storyline we never expected to continue for as long as it has: the recurring presence of former state superintendent Tony Bennett

As we reported last summer, an ethics case against the former state official resulted in a $5,000 fine. The State Ethics Commission approved the settlement regarding allegations that Bennett used state resources during his 2012 re-election campaign, as discovered in a series of emails obtained by the Associated Press in 2013.

The exchanges also revealed that Bennett and his staff may have altered Indiana’s A-F school grading formula to benefit Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school founded by one of Bennett’s supporters. Inspector General David Thomas cleared Bennett of charges for that accusation.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said Friday that the state will not file criminal charges in connection with either portion of the ethics case.

“No evidence was presented to justify criminal charges, and prosecution on each of these issues is declined,” Curry said in a statement. “I would note that submission of the same Inspector General materials to the U.S. Attorney’s Office likewise did not result in any Federal criminal charges.”

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Music Program Cuts Worry Some IPS Community Members

Changes to school funding statewide are forcing many Indiana school corporations to reevaluate how they spend their money, but families supporting those districts don’t always support their decisions.

This week, Indianapolis Public Schools announced it is cutting back on some of its music program offerings – and not everyone is happy about the changes.

Photo Credit: Loyola Fine & Performing Arts/Flickr

(Photo Credit: Loyola Fine & Performing Arts/Flickr)

The shift comes as a result of tweaks to the district’s staffing system. Right now, many IPS schools share music educators, who split their time between multiple buildings. This means some schools – specifically those with lower enrollments – don’t have a dedicated, full-time music teacher.

The new “model” seeks to streamline this, giving each school its own full-time music teacher. It’s a change taking place at the elementary school level only.

IPS spokesperson Kristin Cutler says no school will lose music entirely, but some may lose specific classes based on who they keep on for the full-time position.

“Some people are licensed to teach general and vocal music education, some people are licensed [for] instrumental music education, some people are licensed for both, so that would be the determining factor in if the offerings at a school change,” Cutler explains. For example, she adds, a school may keep its general music classes, but lose a band or orchestra program if the teacher is not certified in instrumental education.

Schools with higher enrollments will also be given an additional financial allocation that can be used to hire a second music teacher to support programming and scheduling needs. Cutler says that decision will be left up to individual school principals.

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Indiana’s New Test Vendor Finds Itself In Hot Water

Indiana education officials have agreed to sign a contract with Pearson to operate the ISTEP+ beginning in the 2016 school year. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

Indiana education officials have agreed to sign a contract with Pearson to operate the ISTEP+ beginning in the 2016 school year. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

Testing company Pearson – slated to run Indiana’s statewide ISTEP+ tests beginning in 2016 – is facing criticism over security of assessments it handles in other states.

Education officials in Minnesota canceled statewide science exams Thursday after an apparent cyberattack on Pearson’s system Wednesday. This is the second time testing has been suspended due to hacks in less than a month.

POLITICO‘s Caitlin Emma summarizes the state’s response to the situation:

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is now questioning whether Pearson can adequately serve as vendor.

“It is simply unacceptable and unfair to subject students and teachers to this kind of uncertainty in a high-stakes testing environment,” she said on Wednesday. “After the April 21 suspension, Pearson added additional security measures to prevent this type of disruption. Given the need to suspend testing today, I have questions about Pearson’s ability to follow through on their assurances.”

Cassellius said her department will talk to districts today about next steps.

Pearson representatives said in a statement that student data had not been compromised.

The Minnesota Department of Education is evaluating options that include exiting their two-year testing contract with Pearson early, and possibly even pursuing further legal action, according to reports from local television station KARE.

The state’s contract with Pearson costs about $33.8 million. Estimates for the company’s agreement with Indiana run about $38 million.

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NCLB Update: See Why It’s Difficult for a Bill to Become Law

Congress is in the process of overhauling No Child Left Behind – the nation’s cornerstone education law – and has been since the beginning of the year. The process of taking an idea from a bill to a law is long and arduous, as lawmakers working on NCLB have discovered – they currently find themselves at an impasse. See if you could endure the task: test your skills with EdWeek’s “Choose Your Own Legislative Adventure” game.

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have been trying to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since the beginning of January. So far, it’s the most serious attempt to overhaul the law since it was last rewritten back in 2001 and branded as the No Child Left Behind Act, the current iteration of the federal K-12 law.

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The Way You Do The Things You Do: How Indiana Schools Find Funding

This school year has certainly been one for the books.

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

The Indiana General Assembly just wrapped up its 2015 “education session,” complete with administrative overhaul and biennial budget talks. Ten school districts around the state put 17 separate referenda on their local ballots – 12 of which passed. On top of all that, schools are still in the midst of regular end-of-the-year ISTEP+ testing, final exams and graduation.

All that craziness can really take its toll on students, teachers, and especially administrators – the people tasked with making sense of statewide programs and mandates for individual school districts.

One of the biggest items for them to tackle: finances.

Like many families, Indiana schools piece together budgets of their own. Instead of paying for groceries, they set aside funds for school lunches; rather than save up for a new car, they count pennies for transportation costs. But unlike the average household, a school district rarely sees a regular income – that number depends on a number of changing factors, including whether voters approve a referendum agreeing to pay extra taxes, or how the state legislature decides to calculate state funding.

What challenges does that create for schools already dealing with tight budgets?

Case Study: Brownsburg Community Schools

All nine schools in the Brownsburg Community School Corporation have received an “A,” the top state ranking, over the past three years. The district has also remained at the top as far as performance on the state standardized ISTEP+ test, and teachers say their relationships with students and families remain positive.

The district is doing so well, in fact, that people have expressed interest to Brownsburg Superintendent Jim Snapp about moving to the area simply for the schools.

“We’re going to continue to do great things, it’s just going to be a little bit harder on the facilities,” Snapp says.

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State Board Approves New A-F System Rules

Members of the State Board of Education hear public comment at their May meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the State Board of Education hear public comment at their May meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State education leaders have been crafting a new school accountability system over the past two-and-a-half years, and today, the State Board of Education approved a final framework.

We’ve already reported on many of the changes for the new A-F school grading system, but here are a few more fast facts:

  • The new system gives equal weight to student growth and performance. Previously, grades were primarily calculated on student performance on the statewide standardized ISTEP+ test, with only bonus points awarded for student growth.
  • The performance/growth ratio is 50/50 for Grades 3-8. In high school, the split is 20/20 and the leftover 60 percent is based on factors such as graduation rates, performance on graduation exams, and AP passing rates.
  • Growth is only measured for students attending school 162 days out of the year. It also doesn’t include students in third grade, because they have not been previously tested (the ISTEP+ starts in third grade).
  • The feds require that schools can only receive an “A” if they show performance and growth in student subgroups (i.e. student with special needs, free/reduced price lunch, English language learners, etc.)
  • The new rules will likely result in fewer “A” and “F” schools.

All of these rule elements came to the table following months of discussion and various opportunities to hear public comment on proposed changes.

But, the process may not be over just yet.

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Trend Continues As 12 Of 17 School Referenda Pass

Trends in school-related voting held remained the same this election cycle, which saw education referenda that in some cases were the only items on local ballots.

Thirteen Indiana school districts appealed to voters for their support in 17 separate referenda this spring. In total, twelve measures passed and five failed. See the breakdown below:

Show rows.
School Corporation
Tax rate
Percent yes
Percent no
Brownsburg Community SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.05Fail48%52%
Brownsburg Community SchoolsConstruction$0.41Fail47%53%
Community Schools of FrankfortConstruction$0.42Pass64.90%35.10%
Gary Community SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.41Fail35.23%64.77%
Hanover Community School Corp.General Fund$0.29Pass51.71%48.29%
MSD of Wayne TownshipGeneral Fund$0.35Pass64.18%35.82%
New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.Construction$0.20Fail44.69%55.31%
Perry Township SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.42Pass54.99%45.01%
Perry Township SchoolsConstruction$0.13Pass53.39%46.61%
Pike County School Corp.General Fund$0.29Fail31.89%68.11%
Rising Sun-Ohio County Comm. School Corp.General Fund$0.25Pass72.10%27.90%
River Forest Community School Corp.General Fund$0.42Pass65.75%34.25%
School City of Beech GroveGeneral Fund$0.35Pass75.84%24.16%
School City of Beech GroveConstruction$0.15Pass76.33%23.67%
Valparaiso Community SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.20Pass64%36%
Valparaiso Community SchoolsConstruction$0.65Pass63%37%
Warsaw Community SchoolsConstruction$0.14Pass62.31%37.69%

Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance

You can also check out our entire referenda scorecard, with district results dating back to 2008.

StateImpact’s favorite referenda expert, Larry DeBoer, says in general his theory is that referenda have a better chance of passing in May, since those elections don’t typically boast any big races and tend to draw a lot of pro-referendum support. Here was his reaction Tuesday night:

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Bloomington Debates Classical Charter School A Second Time

The battle over a proposed classical charter school in Bloomington continued Monday night, at a public hearing for the second go-around in front of the Indiana Charter School Board. That group will review comments received at the meeting and via email before making a final decision – again – later this month.

Seven Oaks Classical School, a proposed charter school for area students, could be one step closer to reality. Members of the Indiana Charter School Board will review comments received via email and a Monday night public hearing before they vote on a recommendation for the school’s application later this month.

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