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Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

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Q&A: Why Indiana Lawmakers Aren’t Ready To Fund Preschool

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

“This,” says Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, referring to a proposed preschool program, “is almost a potential budget buster.”

Gov. Mike Pence asked state lawmakers this year to approve a small-scale preschool pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds. But Kenley, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, says he’s not ready to commit to state-funded pre-K.

That’s why the Senate Education Committee said the governor’s preferred proposal was too expensive and elected instead to study the issue this summer.

Though there’s a chance lawmakers could still approve some funding for a pilot program, budget hawks remain skeptical of the plan. Continue Reading

For Indiana’s Smallest Districts, Decision To Consolidate Is More Than Financial

Cannelton City Schools Supt. Al Sibbitt drives down the town's main drag.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Cannelton City Schools superintendent Al Sibbitt drives down the town's main drag, pointing out shuttered stores and businesses.

Over the past decade, academics and political leaders have delivered a consistent message to Indiana’s smallest school districts: If possible, consolidate with a nearby district.

Recent Ball State research says half of the state’s school districts could reduce costs through a merger. Yet only a handful of schools have actually done it — in part because pressing financial need sometimes isn’t enough to drive consolidation.

Halfway between Louisville and Evansville on the Ohio River are two small cities: Tiny Tell City, Ind., and the even tinier Cannelton. Cannelton’s only three miles upstream from Tell City — but it can seem like it’s worlds apart.

“Here’s some old buildings, just sitting here, empty,” says Cannelton City Schools superintendent Al Sibbitt as he drives down Washington Street. Continue Reading

Tiny, Troubled District Wonders How Indiana Would Replace Business Tax Dollars

Cannelton City Schools was in "complte disarray" when Al Sibbitt took over two years ago. The 72-year-old part-time superintendent has had to implement steep cuts to keep the district going, but revenues are still drying up.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Cannelton City Schools was in 'complete disarray' when Al Sibbitt took over two years ago. The 72-year-old part-time superintendent has had to implement steep cuts to keep the district going, but revenues are still drying up.

At 72, Al Sibbitt doesn’t need to be working. But his part-time job still keeps him up nights.

“Where can I cut a few dollars here?” the Cannelton City Schools superintendent will ask himself when he can’t sleep. “Where can I save a few dollars there?”

When he took the job two years ago, Indiana’s smallest school district already had big financial problems. As if Cannelton’s declining enrollment weren’t problematic enough, the state’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Sibbitt’s predecessor, who may have misspent more than $615,000 of the district’s money.

But on top of that, Cannelton has lost more than half of its local tax revenues to the state’s property tax caps. Proportionally speaking, only three Indiana districts have lost more to these constitutionally-enshrined limits on how much property owners pay to local governments.

“And now they’re talking about taking the machinery off the tax rolls,” Sibbitt says, referring to state lawmakers’ proposal to scale back Indiana’s business equipment tax. “Who’s going to make that up?” Continue Reading

What’s At Stake For Indiana Businesses In Lawmakers’ Equipment Tax Debate

Draper, Inc., in Spiceland is the largest private employer in Henry County, manufacturing various equipment for schools.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Draper, Inc., in Spiceland is the largest private employer in Henry County, manufacturing various equipment for schools.

The Draper, Inc., plant in Spiceland might have been the birthplace of your school’s gymnasium.

The manufacturer actually makes all kinds of equipment for schools, from window shades to projection systems. Look one way and you’ll see a basketball hoop hanging from the ceiling. Look another direction, and you’ll see wall padding stacked on a pallet.

“I’ll sell a lot of these to Saudi Arabia,” says Nate LaMar, who manages international sales.

Any equipment Draper employees use to make these products in its 400,000 square foot plant in Spiceland — from staple guns to forklifts — is subject to Indiana’s business personal property tax. It’s not just manufacturing equipment; office supplies and computers are taxed too.

LaMar says he sees both sides of state lawmakers’ current debate over whether to cut that tax, which generates $1 billion in revenues for local governments. In addition to his work at Draper, LaMar is also president of the Henry County Council. If lawmakers totally eliminated the tax, the county’s budget takes a $391,000 hit.

Though neither of the bills General Assembly members approved last week amount to a total elimination of the business personal property tax, school districts still stand to lose more than $170 million from funds already bruised by the state’s property tax caps. Continue Reading

If Indiana Offers Pre-K Vouchers, Who Will Ensure Quality?

A Head Start teacher in South Bend reads to her students.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

A Head Start teacher in South Bend reads to her class of 4-year-olds.

Indiana is one of 10 states that doesn’t provide any public money for preschool — but, if elected leaders get their way, that could change soon.

State lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence say they’ll make pre-K funding a priority in 2014. Pence favors a targeted program for low-income families similar to the Choice Scholarship vouchers the state provides to K-12 students.

But early learning advocates say the success of the initiative will depend largely on how Indiana measures quality.

“Are they going to put in that oversight if they’re giving vouchers? Is that oversight any good?” says Ann Rosen, co-director of the Family Connection, a non-profit that provides teacher assessments to pre-K providers in St. Joseph County.

In the absence of state leadership on early childhood education, it’s been up to community foundations such as Rosen’s to fill the void. Continue Reading

Why Evansville School Leaders Say They Don’t Need State Help To Turn Around A Troubled School

Glenwood Leadership Academy fourth grade teacher Amber Santana leads her students in multiplication drills while pacing across her their desktops. Santana is in her second year at the school.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Glenwood Leadership Academy fourth grade teacher Amber Santana leads her students in multiplication drills while pacing across their desktops. Santana is in her second year at the school.

Her shoes kicked off, a white board in hand, teacher Amber Santana is leading multiplication drills with her fourth graders at Evansville’s Glenwood Leadership Academy — while standing on their desks.

Standing just outside the third-year teacher’s room, Glenwood principal Tamara Skinner smiles.

“I realize that’s a bit unorthodox,” Skinner says, but Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation leaders say that’s the kind of vitality they hope to see in its staff — vitality that’s key to turning the troubled school around.

Teachers were burning out when Skinner took the principal’s job at Glenwood last school year. The school had a discipline problem. Its student body turns over often as kids from the largely-poor neighborhoods on Evansville’s south side moved from school to school.

With one of Indiana’s worst passing rates on last year’s statewide tests, Glenwood is all but assured its sixth straight F — leaving state officials with a decision to make before this school year is over. Continue Reading

Why Closing A School Won’t Keep Buses Running In Muncie

Supporters of Muncie Southside High School asked the Board of Trustees not to close the school. But district officials concluded the building could not be converted to house students in 7-12 grade.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Supporters of Muncie Southside High School asked the Board of Trustees not to close the school. But district officials concluded the building could not be converted to house students in 7-12 grade. Next year all high schoolers in the district will go to Muncie Central.

The Muncie Community Schools Board of Trustees voted this week to consolidate the city’s two high schools. The merger is expected to save the district $1.7 million annually — but it’s unlikely to solve the district’s transportation problems.

Earlier this month voters rejected a referendum that district officials said would keep school buses running. But buildings and buses are two separate issues.

“Very seldom will you have two initiatives like this at the same time,” says Superintendent Tim Heller, who on Monday recommended the board vote to move all high school students to Central and reopen Southside as a middle school.

Despite the efforts of Southside parents and students, who packed town hall meetings advocating for moving grades 7-12 into the high school buildings, the board voted 4-1 in favor of the plan.

Logistically, Heller says there just wasn’t enough space at Southside to make it work. So next year Southside will house grades 6-8, and the district will close Wilson Middle School.

“I was principal of Muncie South for three years,” says Heller. “I would certainly hate to have to close that school. But by the same token, my goal is to continue to meet the payroll on the 5th and 20th of each month.”

Closing Southside, says Heller, will help make that happen. But it won’t save the district enough to pay for bus service, too. Continue Reading

Why Kentucky Might Provide A Template For What To Do With The Common Core

Ryan Davis starts a new unit in his geometry class at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. Davis has been teaching Common Core since 2011 and says the new standards appropriately narrow the number of topics math teachers are expected to cover.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Ryan Davis starts a new unit in his geometry class at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. Davis has been teaching Common Core since 2011 and says the new standards appropriately narrow the number of topics math teachers are expected to cover.

This spring, as Indiana lawmakers debated whether to leave the Common Core initiative, students in neighboring Kentucky were taking new state tests aligned to the nationally-crafted academic standards.

A total of 45 states adopted the new standards for math and English language arts back in 2010. But every state is on a different timeline for implementing the Common Core. Before lawmakers paused rollout here, only kindergarten and first grade teachers had made the switch. Kentucky’s plan was more aggressive. Two years ago, it became the first state in the country to switch to new assessments.

Jamitra Fulleord says her teachers didn’t talk to students about the Common Core specifically, but they did say the new tests would be harder.

“So when the test comes around, of course we’re all nervous,” says Fulleord, a senior at Central High School in Louisville, Ky. “We’re like oh no, we already have like the ACT and the SAT staring at us in the face, so we’re going to have this really hard test.”

And, says Fulleord, the new test was harder. Across Kentucky, the number of students reaching proficiency fell dramatically when the state started testing the more rigorous standards. But they’re back up slightly now. That’s good news not just for Kentucky education officials, but also for education policy watchers here who are looking for signs of what Indiana will do next. Continue Reading

What Three Education Polls Can Tell Us About Support For The Common Core

Lisa Coughanowr, a kindergarten teacher at East Side Elementary in Brazil, reads aloud to her students. She asks questions about the story to check their understanding.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Lisa Coughanowr, a kindergarten teacher at East Side Elementary in Brazil, reads aloud to her students. She asks questions about the story to check their understanding.

If you’ve heard of the Common Core State Standards, you’re in the minority.

The trio of education polls we wrote about last week show only 38 percent of Americans can identify the new, nationally-crafted academic standards adopted by 45 states, including Indiana (we know regular StateImpact readers are among that enlightened third).

Jay Kenworthy is spokesman for Stand For Children, a pro-Common Core advocacy group that’s been active in statehouse conversations about the Common Core.

“This was a national poll,” Kenworthy told WFIU’s Will Bray. “In Indiana, the polling has shown that Hoosiers are more aware generally than their national counterparts because it’s been such a hot-button topic.”

Before last week, the last reliable numbers we had on the Common Core came from a Bellwether Research poll commissioned by Howey Politics Indiana. Those numbers, out in April, showed a slight majority of Hoosiers favored staying the course with Common Core. Continue Reading

Video: Explaining The Change That Lifted 165 Indiana Schools’ A-F Grades

StateImpact Indiana / YouTube

How did former state superintendent Tony Bennett lift not only Christel House Academy’s state A-F grade, but more than 160 Indiana schools’ performance ratings as well? We explain the ‘subscore ceiling,’ and how lifting that ceiling impacted many schools’ grades.

UPDATED, September 6: Below, we’ve added audio from a companion radio piece we sent statewide this week. More on the developments in the story here.

Indianapolis charter school Christel House Academy was not the only beneficiary of former state superintendent Tony Bennett’s last-minute changes to the A-F grading formula, as we wrote last week.

With the help of our two favorite storytelling mainstays — white board markers and YouTube — we wanted to illustrate the change that increased 165 schools’ final A-F ratings in 2012. The result? This video. Continue Reading

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