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.
Indiana State Superintendent and gubernatorial candidate Glenda Ritz speaks to the press at the statehouse, following allegations her campaign violated election finance laws. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
Earlier this week, financial documents submitted to the state showed that Ritz accepted 28 campaign donations totaling more than $8,000 between January 6th and February 23rd, during the 2015 legislative session. State election laws prohibit candidates from accepting or soliciting donations when the General Assembly meets.
In a statement released Saturday night, Ritz’s team said they had discovered and amended “inadvertent errors” in the campaign’s most recent finance report. They say the dates for twenty-one of the contributions have been changed to reflect a date of possession outside of the blackout period, rather than the date of deposit during that period, as they were originally submitted.
Ritz’s team also clarified that they had indeed received unsolicited contributions.
“While a number of these unsolicited contributions were refunded prior to the report, three contributions totaling roughly $900 were inadvertently deposited,” Ritz’s camp said in the statement. “These contributions have now been refunded by the campaign.”
The corrected report has been submitted to the Indiana Elections Division.
“The amended report makes several corrections to ensure full compliance with Indiana’s campaign finance law,” Ritz’s camp said in the statement. “We look forward to continuing to fully comply with all reporting requirements.”
The Ritz for Governor team also announced the addition of a new treasurer, although they did not provide a name.
Campaign finance laws state that the legislative session constitutes a “blackout” period, during which a candidate is not allowed to collect or solicit donations.
Documents submitted on behalf of Ritz’s campaign showed multiple donations received during session. The superintendent says this was a clerical error and that her team is working to correct it and submit an amended form.
“The contributions that were given were before the period, but I think what we have here may be a deposit date was given, instead of the actual date of when the checks were actually issued,” Ritz told the press Friday morning.
Tony Cook at the Indianapolis Star reports that, should election officials discover Ritz is in fact in violation of campaign laws, she could face a hefty penalty:
An Indianapolis Star review of Ritz’s campaign finance filings also found that her campaign for superintendent of public instruction received more than $82,000 in contributions during the 2013 legislative session, mostly from the Indiana Democratic Party and PACs affiliated with the Indiana State Teachers Association.
The penalty for violating the law is a civil fine of up to twice the amount of any contributions received, plus any costs incurred by the state’s election division. In Ritz’s case, that could be up to $180,000 — more than the $112,220 her campaign currently has in its bank account.
The Indiana Election Commission generally requires a formal complaint to be filed before it will take enforcement action. No complaints had been filed as of Friday afternoon. [...]
Ritz campaign spokesman Pat Terrell said the 2015 contributions in question were actually received before the legislative session, but weren’t deposited until after the session began. He said he didn’t have enough information to immediately address questions about the 2013 contributions.
Ritz’s explanation may not be enough to satisfy the law’s requirements.
The documents show that Ritz raised significantly less than Democratic challenger John Gregg and incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
Democrat Glenda Ritz’s campaign only managed to raise $30,000 in the first half of 2015, and more than a quarter of those donations may have been collected in violation of state election law.
According to financial documents submitted to the state earlier this week, the state superintendent accepted 28 campaign donations between January 6th and February 23rd, totaling more than $8,000.
That means the number of initial licenses issued has dropped by 63 percent.
It’s important to note that teachers need separate licenses to teach individual subjects, so this doesn’t mean the number of teachers has dropped by the same margin. The IDOE issued licenses to about 5,599 teachers in 2009-10, and in ’13-14 that number sat closer to 4,500.
“We’ve always had shortages in some fields, like math, science, special education, English as a second language – but now we’re starting to see shortages across the board,” Gonzalez explains. “I think the nation is headed that way unless we do something.”
Gonzalez attributes the declining number of applicants for teaching jobs to a lack of good pay.
“Teaching has never been a very lucrative position, but people can make a very good life doing something they care about and they can make a whole lot of difference in people’s lives,” Gonzalez says. “I think we need to set up the salary scales to show that teaching is a priority, that it’s a critical profession not just for local communities, but for the nation.”
You may have heard national news outlets talk a lot in recent weeks about the federal No Child Left Behind act.
We’ve summarized the law before – it plays into different aspects of education here in Indiana, most importantly expectations for student testing and federal funding for state schools.
Right now, Congress is talking about reworking the measure, and as the process nears completion we thought it would be a good time for a refresher: what is NCLB, how are lawmakers hoping to reshape it and what could potential changes mean for national and local education?
What is No Child Left Behind?
No Child Left Behind is an extensive federal statute that lays the groundwork for school funding in Indiana and across the country. (Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr)
NCLB is the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or ESEA – we know, lots of acronyms), the nation’s cornerstone education law. ESEA was established for the purpose of establishing accountability and high standards for learning, as well as emphasizing equal access to education to minimize achievement gaps between different groups of students.
The extensive federal statute also sets out the structure for funding primary and secondary education.
Former president Lyndon B. Johnson signed ESEA into law in 1965, and since then Congress has reauthorized the act every five years.
In 2001, the administration under former president George W. Bush made significant edits to the reauthorization, titling it No Child Left Behind. This iteration put heavy emphasis on increased accountability measures for both teachers and students, exemplified by a mandate for states to administer annual standardized tests to quantify student growth and achievement.
Some argue that although the intent of NCLB is admirable, the methods are not. Here’s how NPR correspondent Juana Summers summarizes current debate over the law:
When it started, it was supposed to close gaps in achievement between poor students and students of color and their more affluent peers. And to do that, there are these annual tests in reading and math. Critics say it’s trouble. Teachers don’t like that they’re teaching to these tests and that it just makes students have to take too many tests to actually see results.
It’s primarily these concerns Congress hopes to address as they work to tweak the law.
Have you ever wondered how standardized tests are scored? It’s a different process than grading, but it still involves the work of human hands. NPR Education reporter Claudio Sanchez met a few of the people who volunteer to mark the more than 5 million tests administered this school year by Pearson – the company who will handle Indiana’s new ISTEP+ test next year.
Standardized tests tied to the Common Core are under fire in lots of places for lots of reasons. But who makes them and how they’re scored is a mystery. For a peek behind the curtain, I traveled to the home of the nation’s largest test-scoring facility: San Antonio, Texas.
Although the school year only recently ended, teachers and administrators are already actively planning for the next.
Teachers and administrators in Jackson County have more reason than usual to get excited for the upcoming year: their rural community is finally kicking off its efforts as part of the On My Way Pre-K, Indiana’s first state-funded preschool pilot program.
Programs in four of the five areas started in January, but in Jackson County, officials wanted to wait so they could make room for more kids, find extra funding and get pre-k providers up to speed.
“Truly, the joy that families are experiencing and that they have this opportunity for their child has to be number one,” Brizzi says. “Followed closely behind that is the significant quality improvements that we’ve seen occurring in programs, which not just supports the On My Way Pre-K children with high-quality, but it supports all those children in that program.”
Compared with this time last year, the number of preschool providers with a Level 3 rating on the state’s Paths to QUALITY system (a minimum requirement to participate in the pilot) has increased by 27 percent in the five pilot counties. The number of Level 4 ranked providers is up 51 percent.
Luckily, the state has options. The U.S. Department of Education has offered all states the option for some flexibility in using accountability during transition periods for standards and assessments. In response, a Senate committee asked Indiana’s Department of Ed this session to create a list of ideas for determining A-F grades that would fit within federal restrictions, so as not to jeopardize the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver.
In order to hold onto funding for its various workforce training programs across the state, Ivy Tech Community College has until August 1 to show improvement in student success rates. State officials say the system is not meeting the thresholds for some programs, and they want to see progress before committing the money. This comes on the heels of additional pressure from lawmakers, who previously ordered a state review of Ivy Tech’s programs due to concerns over low graduation rates and declining enrollment.
The state funnels millions in federal Workforce Investment Act dollars to residents looking to improve their skills in the job market. Some take the money and go for two-year degrees, such as for a licensed practical nurse, while others attend short-term programs for industry certifications.
Accountability options: This one’s a doozy.Following a year that saw the rollout of entirely new academic standards and the first in a series of corresponding updated standardized tests, many Hoosier leaders expressed concern over how schools would be held accountable, given all the change. Luckily, the state has options. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education offered some states with waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law –
Along with their fellow board members, David Freitas and Lee Ann Kwiatkowski will be selecting a vice chair and secretary from among their ranks. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
including Indiana – the option to delay incorporating student test scores into teacher evaluations until the end of the current school year. In response, a Senate committee asked the IDOE to create a list of options regarding how schools would receive A-F grades for the 2014-15 school year. After consulting with a number of stakeholders, the department has come up with a list of 12 options. The IDOE is recommending option five from its list, “Hold Harmless,” which would assign each school the better A-F grade received between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. This option is aligned to both state statutory requirements as well as USED flexibility standards, and would not require legislative action. Since the state board has final approval of all school grades, the group needs to approve whatever option the state decides to pursue.
Focus on dual language learning: The board will talk about a few dual language initiatives this month, thanks to new legislation passed this session. Senate Enrolled Act 267 tasks the board and the Department of Education with establishing both a state certificate of biliteracy and a dual language immersion pilot program. The board will initiate rule making to establish criteria for the certificate this month, and discuss the program outline and corresponding grant application crafted by IDOE staff. The department is encouraging interested public school district and charter school administrators to submit grant applications by Friday, July 24.
Perhaps the most talked-about education item on lawmakers’ docket this session, Senate Bill 1 was the only one of countless bills introduced concerning reorganization of the State Board of Education to make it through to Gov. Mike Pence‘s desk.
Only one element of the law – one of the most crucial and controversial parts – will not go into effect next week: the ability for the board to elect its own chairperson annually. After much back and forth, lawmakers decided to hold off on enacting this part of the law until January 2017, at the end of state superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s current term. The state superintendent has historically served as board chair.
Reappointed board member Sarah O’Brien and new board member Byron Ernest at the June State Board of Education meeting. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)
The state board meets for its next meeting the day this law takes effect, July 1. The first items of new business on the agenda: electing a vice chair and secretary. According to a report from Chalkbeat Indiana, many board members have already voiced support for appointing Sarah O’Brien to the former slot:
[Board member Cari] Whicker said she believes a majority of the board will support O’Brien for vice chairwoman, based on conversations with others on the board. O’Brien’s father is state Rep. Bill Fine, R-Munster, who backed the bill to create the position of vice chairwoman.
“Certainly more than most are supportive of her,” Whicker said. “And so it would be nice to feel like that’s a consensus when we go into that meeting and not have any contention there in selecting somebody.”