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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Building Funds: How Charter Schools Benefit From The Newest Budget

We’ve been talking a lot about money leading up to, during and now after the conclusion of the 2015 “education session.”

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

That’s because lawmakers spent a good deal of time this year reworking the way schools are funded – not just public schools, but charter schools too.

These alternative institutions saw a pretty big swing in their favor in the state’s new biennial budget: they can now receive additional money to pay for things like buildings, technology, and transportation – money they couldn’t previously access.

Not everyone likes charter schools, or believes that they should be handed public funds, but others say the move could serve as a pretty big incentive to not only to draw more charter schools into Indiana, but to keep the schools that are already here – and their traditional counterparts – performing at a high level.

‘Space Available’

Mariama Carson stands in an empty parking lot on Commercial Drive, off of I-465 on the north side of Indianapolis. She looks up at a building that sits on the south end of the lot, among a series of strip malls. This particular space sits between a small Chinese restaurant and an abandoned H.H. Gregg grocery store.

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“A former Hobby Lobby,” Carson explains. “That’s what I know it as. I was a teacher down in this area, and I remember coming here to get crafts and things for the classroom.”

Carson, a former school principal in Pike Township, points to a different sign now atop the building entrance: “For Lease: Space Available, 56,000 square feet.” She says the space might be an option for Global Prep Academy, the proposed charter school she hopes to run.

“I think they’re waiting for it to be revived, and I’m hoping that this kind of space would be great for a school to revive the area,” Carson says.

3695 Commercial Drive has been empty for a long time; the last time Carson says she remembers coming in for craft supplies was maybe 10 years ago. In fact, five or six other retail spaces beside it also boast bold-faced “For Lease” signs.

Despite the vacancies, Carson says this area – dubbed the “International Marketplace” – is exactly the type of environment she’s been looking for to house her proposed K-8 school for dual language learners.

“The International Marketplace collectively is the most diverse pocket in the entire state of Indiana,” Carson recounts. “Wanting to have a school that’s in close proximity to the demographics we’re going after, it’s this place.”

But there is a major factor standing in her way: cost.

“The total for the whole project from the renovation standpoint was like $4.5 million – that’s just renovation, not even for the building,” Carson says. “To buy it is like over a million dollars.”

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Lawmakers Announce New State Board Appointments

Troy Albert is one of the State Board of Education members the governor did not reappoint to the board Wednesday.

Troy Albert is one of the State Board of Education members the governor did not reappoint to the board Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Five new people will join Indiana’s State Board of Education after Gov. Mike Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announced appointments Wednesday.

The new roster comes as a result of legislation the General Assembly passed this session permitting the governor and two legislative leaders to appoint or reappoint INSBOE members by June 1. The governor previously had authority to appoint all members of the board as spots became vacant, never all at once.

But after months of disagreements and arguments on the board that led to a walkout by Ritz, stalemate on important policy decisions and a lawsuit, the legislature decided it was time to reboot the board.

“Today marks a fresh start for the State Board of Education,” Pence said in a statement. “Ensuring a quality education for every Hoosier student remains of the utmost importance to our administration, and I commend the tireless efforts of the men and women who have devoted their time and expertise by serving on the Board.”

“Hoosiers can be assured that the individuals appointed today to the State Board of Education bring to the table a wealth of unique educational experiences and remain wholeheartedly committed to serving our kids, our families, our teachers, and our schools,” Pence said.

Over the last two years, the INSBOE adopted new academic standards, revamped the state’s standardized assessment and created a new A-F accountability system – but that doesn’t mean this new board will not have plenty to do.

Board spokesman Marc Lotter says his staff will immediately begin reaching out to the new members to help prepare them for their first meeting June 3. Lotter says the biggest agenda items facing the new group will be addressing components of the new state budget, including new funding and loan options for charter schools, as well as the board’s role in state testing contracts.

“We also have to establish the testing windows for next year,” Lotter explains. “I know that there are a lot of superintendents and principals that are really looking to get those dates so they can map out the academic year next year.”

Below, check out a visual representation of the political parties (blue for Democratic, red for Republican & neutral for Independent), professional backgrounds & district memberships of former, returning & new State Board of Education members.

Click on a district to see its board representative. To switch between the former and current board makeup maps, click on the main menu in the top left corner of the map and select “Former INSBOE” or “New INSBOE.”

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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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