Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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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.

  • Email: rmorello@indiana.edu

Curtain Call? State Board Could Look Different After May Meeting

The Indiana State Board of Education meets Thursday in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education meets Thursday in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

School is almost out for summer, but the books never close for the State Board of Education.

The group continues its work Thursday in Indianapolis, in what could be one of its final meetings with the current roster of members.

Check out why, and what else is on the to-do list for the board’s May meeting:

Legislative session: The General Assembly wrapped up its 2015 session last week, and they didn’t call it the “education session” for nothing. Among the school-related items approved by lawmakers in both chambers was Senate Bill 1, a measure calling for major board shake-up, including:

  • Allowing the state superintendent to remain board chair until January 2017, after which the board will elect a chair annually from among its ranks,
  • Appointing a vice chair beginning July 1 of this year,
  • Reducing the number of gubernatorial appointments (previously 10) to eight, and
  • Allowing the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem to each appoint one board member.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz already shared her sentiments on the measure, as have a few board members. David Freitas, Gordon Hendry and Brad Oliver released a joint statement on Hendry’s website last week signaling their desire to remain on the board when it comes time to re-appoint members:

“There have been significant changes made in education policy in Indiana in recent years that have been challenging at times to work through as a Board. At the end of the day, we’ve crafted and implemented policies that have moved Hoosier schools in the right direction for our kids.

“As a bipartisan group, we’ve worked both with Indiana education leaders and groups such as the National Association of State Boards of Education to make sure our state is tackling tough challenges and helping families. We hope we will be able to continue that important work into the future.”

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Lawmakers’ Final Attempt To Clarify State Board Makeup, Duties

Updated 11:58 p.m.: 

Indiana legislators finalized a contentious bill Wednesday night calling for several changes to the composition of the State Board of Education.

Over the course of this year’s “education session,” legislators tossed around a number of ideas to help ease strain on the board.

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives met Wednesday to finalize legislation on a number of different issues. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives met Wednesday to finalize legislation on a number of different issues, as did their Senate colleagues. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The final version of Senate Bill 1 will allow state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to keep her position as chair of the board – at least until the end of her current term, in January 2017. After that, the board will elect a chair annually from among its ranks.

Board membership will remain at its current number of 11 members, including the superintendent. But, as has been tradition, board members will no longer be solely appointed by the governor. He’ll retain eight appointments, with the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem each adding one of their own.

The measure also provides for the board to elect a vice chair as early as July 1 of this year. Some lawmakers argued adding another leadership position could cause even more conflict.

Rep. Jud McMillin, one of the bill’s House conferees, says no matter who occupies those roles, they will have to work their issues out.

“That’s the whole point, is to get these people talking and communicating better,” McMillin says. “What this is simply asking is for two people who serve on the same board – who purportedly have the same goal in mind – to be able to talk well enough to figure out what items should be on the agenda for the next meeting. If they can’t agree on that, then we better come back here and do more.”

Other changes attempt to clear up fog between the board and the state Department of Education, a relationship that has caused much of the board’s tension. Legislators hope data sharing will become easier when they designate the board as a “state education authority” – a title that allows the group access to information that they’ve complained the IDOE doesn’t share.

The board will also gain authority to help shape the statewide standardized ISTEP+ test – a power previously reserved for the IDOE.

Senate Bill 1 passed the House by a margin of 60-38, and 31-17 in the Senate.

But the modifications didn’t stop there.

Leaders also tweaked the state budget – which has been a hot-button education issue all on its own, what with changes to the school funding formula – to include a few shifts between the board and IDOE.

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What’s the Word? Schools As Salespeople For Referenda

Election season is upon us once again – but we’d forgive you if you forgot.

School districts may turn to voters to help finance construction or general fund projects during elections. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr)

School districts may turn to voters to help finance construction or general fund projects during elections. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr)

May tends to host municipal elections – races without the fanfare of presidential, Congressional or gubernatorial races typical of November ballots. And that means the issues can take center stage.

School-related referenda dominate the ballots this time of year, and history shows that most of these measures that pass, pass in May – they have about a 50 percent success rate in Indiana. This could be because voters don’t want to pay more taxes, but some experts also point to a lack of understanding about what the additional tax money would pay for.

Campaigning For Cash

Ever since lawmakers implemented property tax caps in 2008, the portion of local property tax money school corporations can receive has shrunk. That means more districts are turning to referendum to pursue financing when revenue falls short.

This May, thirteen Hoosier school districts are asking for 17 separate tax levy increases on the primary ballot – a mix of construction and general fund supplements.

Just like in every election, they’ll appear at the bottom of the ballot, and they’ll all be constructed the same way. The Department of Local Government Finance requires a one-sentence paragraph outlining:

  • How much money the district needs,
  • What the money is for, and
  • What the request would do to the local tax rate.

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Elections: More School Districts Will Seek Multiple Referenda

April 15 may have just passed, but it’s nearly time to think about taxes once again.

Spring elections are just two weeks away, and that means schools will look to their local communities for help covering a wide range of expenses – from building renovations to transportation and maintenance costs.

Eighteen school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

Eighteen school-related measures will appear on local ballots May 5. (Photo Credit: Jessica Whittle Photography/Flickr)

Referenda have become increasingly more common as a method to fund public schools since 2008, when lawmakers implemented property tax caps. Since then, the portion of tax money that could be distributed to school corporations has shrunk.

Thirteen Indiana school districts will ask for 17 separate tax levy increases on the ballot May 5. Brownsburg, Perry Township, Beech Grove and Valparaiso are each asking voters to approve two questions – one construction project and one school tax levy.

Here’s a list of referenda that will appear on various local ballots May 5:

Construction referenda

  • Brownsburg Community Schools will ask for 41.17 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to pay for the construction of a new elementary school, in addition to renovation and improvements to the area high school. The district estimates upgrades will cost no more than $95 million.
  • Community Schools of Frankfort is asking for 42 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for $30 million to renovate Frankfort High School. The project has been in the works for awhile, according to the Clinton County Daily News.

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What’s Left In The ‘Education Session?’

It has been a busy few months for Indiana lawmakers, but they are finally hurdling toward the end of their annual legislative session.

As the “education session” draws to a close, a number of crucial measures remain on the table, including testing, the state’s biennial budget and a controversial bill that could shift power on the State Board of Education.

Take a brief look at some of the biggest school-related bills still up for passage:

Sen. Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville (left) and House Ways & Means Chair Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville (right).

Sen. Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville (left) and House Ways & Means Chair Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville (right).

  • HB 1001: The state’s two-year budget. The most important education element contained within: Indiana’s school funding formula. The future of the Education Roundtable could also be at stake. As expected, it will be up to a conference committee – including both budget architects (Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, and Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville) – to craft final language.
  • HB 1009: This is a tricky one. The measure originally started off as a bill establishing Gov. Mike Pence’s “Freedom to Teach” initiative – a grant program to fund designated districts, schools and teachers. As it currently stands, the bill now calls for a replacement of the current statewide ISTEP+ with a nationally crafted test. Why such a drastic change? Sen. Kenley had a different ISTEP+ bill on the books early on in the session (see SB 566 below) – after that effort fell through, he used his seat as Senate Appropriations chair to rewrite this bill to include his testing language.

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Study: No Academic Difference For Voucher Students

New research is adding fuel to one of the most heated debates on Indiana’s modern education scene.

A new study released Thursday suggests no measurable difference between students using school vouchers and their peers studying in public schools.

A new report finds statistical differences in academic outcomes for Indiana students using school vouchers versus their public school counterparts. (Photo Credit: chancadoodle/Flickr)

A new report finds statistical differences in academic outcomes for Indiana students using school vouchers versus their public school counterparts. (Photo Credit: chancadoodle/Flickr)

According to a report from the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, school choice in Indiana is “designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools, with little evidence that demonstrates improved academic achievement for students who are most at risk.” The study compared Indiana’s program with those in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. – some of the oldest voucher programs in the country – where they say they found similar results.

CTBA researchers say their findings indicate “no compelling reason to subsidize Indiana school vouchers with public taxpayer dollars.”

Indiana has one of the biggest school voucher programs in the country, with close to 30,000 participants receiving public funds to attend private schools.

School vouchers are an important part of Gov. Mike Pence’s education vision. He responded to the report Thursday saying he disagreed with its conclusions, calling school vouchers an “all of the above strategy.”

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Additional Grants To Fund 600 More On My Way Pre-K Spots

Despite contention in many areas of Hoosier education these days, support continues on all sides for making early education a priority throughout Indiana.

Gov. Mike Pence (right) greets Early Learning Indiana CEO Ted Maple (second from left) and Melanie Brizzi of the FSSA (second from right) at Wayne Township Preschool Thursday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Gov. Mike Pence (right) greets Early Learning Indiana CEO Ted Maple (second from left) and Melanie Brizzi of the FSSA (second from right) at Wayne Township Preschool Thursday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

During an event at Wayne Township Preschool in Indianapolis, Gov. Mike Pence announced today the addition of nearly 600 spots for low-income four-year-olds in the fall launch of On My Way Pre-K, the state’s first pre-k pilot program.

Extra spots will be distributed proportionally among the five participating counties – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh. This will allow local providers to serve approximately 2000 kids during the full launch of the program in August.

“On My Way Pre-K is off to a great start,” Pence told parents and business partners Thursday. “These grants will offer more low-income students the chance to learn and grow in a high-quality pre-K program.”

The increased space comes as a result of additional capacity-building grants totaling more than $435,000 for early learning providers around the state. Organizations including Early Learning Indiana, United Way of Central Indiana and the Lilly Endowment Inc. provided money to fund the grants. The state also contributed funds to the effort.

450 children received grants to participate in the January launch in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. Jackson County will get its program up in time to join the rest of the group for the full fall launch.

Families can apply on the FSSA website until the April 30 deadline.

School Closing Forces Gary Community To Look For Solutions

“Everybody wants to pick on poor, little Gary, Indiana.”

Robert Crawford is a lifelong Gary resident. He attended classes in the Gary Community School Corporation when he was a kid – roaming some of the same hallways that his sixth grade daughter now frequents.

But the school district looks a lot different now than it did in Crawford’s day.

Dunbar-Pulaski Academic & Career Academy, Gary, Indiana (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Dunbar-Pulaski Academic & Career Academy, Gary, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Many people say it’s smaller: total student enrollment sits at just over 7,500, and has shrunk every year in the last half-decade, according to state Department of Education data. That’s indicative of a larger trend in the city – an exodus of many families and businesses that has left close to 9,000 buildings abandoned.

And there’s an even bigger change to come. During their March meeting, members of the State Board of Education voted to close Dunbar-Pulaski, GCSC’s citywide middle school,  a change many see as imposed on – rather than earned by – a district that has struggled with financial issues and low test scores for years.

As school leaders work to make the move smooth for local students, community members and parents like Crawford are making their own suggestions to to help shape the district’s future.

“I’m all for change when it’s time to change,” Crawford says. “It takes a community to succeed.”

‘This Took Six Years’

This is the first time in the history of the state board that members have voted to close a school without first attempting an intervention strategy.

According to current state law, the board has the ability to take over any school earning a ‘D’ or ‘F’ on the state’s A-F grading scale for six consecutive years.

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Bill To Change State Board Chairmanship Still Alive

In the waning days of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers have yet to decide the fate of the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse in February. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse in February. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

The House Committee on Education held its final hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 1, a measure that would allow SBOE members to elect a chairperson within their ranks – rather than the elected state Superintendent automatically fill that position.

The bill passed committee 8-4.

Language added to the measure would also shift who makes board appointments. Right now, the governor names all members other than the superintendent. Many have suggested designating some appointments to various legislators – an idea committee chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, echoed in an amendment he proposed early Thursday.

That amendment distributes power for board assignments as such:

Governor = 10

House Speaker, in consultation with the House minority leader = 1

Senate President Pro Tem, in consultation with the Senate minority leader = 1

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Senate Echoes House Counterparts In Constructing Budget Proposal

As the 2015 “education session” of the Indiana General Assembly draws to a close, lawmakers are making final moves – perhaps most notably in all sectors, finally whittling down the biennial budget.

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The budget currently sits in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee, whose proposal released Thursday mirrors much of the House version put out last month.

K-12 and higher education combine to make up 63 percent of the proposed $31.5 billion two-year appropriations. Appropriations chair Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, says his committee wants to increase K-12 funding by $466 million over the biennium.

As you’ll remember, Indiana’s school funding formula relies heavily on two measurements: foundation (base funds per student) and complexity (money set aside for at-risk students).

Like the House GOP, Senate Republicans want to see foundation increase:

FY 2016: $4,943 per student

FY 2017: $5,052 per student

What looks a bit different is the calculation for complexity money, based on shifting the definition of “at-risk.”

That number used to be calculated based on how many students received free textbooks, followed by students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. The House proposed changing the definition to include only students receiving free lunch.

The Senate wants to base the calculation on what’s known as “direct certification.” In other words, if a child’s family qualify for one of three federal low-income services – foster care, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – the federal government will automatically notify the state Department of Education that he or she qualifies for complexity money.

“That’s a pretty big change,” Kenley says. “This is somewhat of a balancing act.”

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