Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom


Eight Of Ten School Referenda Pass On Indiana Primary Ballot

Taxpayers in eight Indiana school districts have voted to pay higher taxes to help pay salaries and classroom expenses in local schools.

On Tuesday’s primary ballot, 10 school districts appealed to voters to help fund public education in their districts. All but two passed.

Schools in Fort Wayne, New Prairie, Brown County, Hamilton Southeastern, Southwest Allen County, Noblesville, Speedway and Southern Wells had successful ballot referenda. Voters in Argos and Wabash voted not to raise taxes for extra funds to support their school districts.

(Check out the full list of referenda that passed and didn’t, and the trends since 2008)

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.

Purdue professor of Agricultural Economics Larry DeBoer said he loves studying public policy, so he loves seeing what happens when schools ask voters to raise their own taxes to fund schools.

“Eight out of ten won,” said DeBoer. “And that’s above the percentage that we’ve seen even for May elections.”

School districts can present ballot referenda on May or November ballots. He says this year’s high scuccess rate, even with a contested presidential primary, will make future May school referenda more likely.

Since November 2008, 65 percent of school referenda on the ballot have passed. This year 80 percent did.

But it wasn’t good news for all.

As we’ve reported, Argos County Schools has lost over $1 million in funding since 2008. School officials hoped to raise $750,000 with their ballot item — but 59 percent of voters said no.

Argos County superintendent Michele Riise says student learning will be affected since the referendum did not pass.

“We’ll be looking hard at the budget. Inevitably we’re going to have to make some cuts,” said Riise. “It’s going to be hurting our programs and students now. We were hoping we would not have to get that far.”

Riise says that funding problems in the district stretch beyond Tuesday’s ballot. Instead she points toward a school funding formula that she says hurts districts across Indiana.

“We have seen it firsthand that the funding formula is not equitable, it is not in favor of public schools let alone, rural schools such as Argos,” said Riise.

DeBoer, the referenda enthusiast, says one thing is clear about the referenda: it pays to go before.

“Two of the three that had never tried a referendum before lost,” said DeBoer. “Everybody else had gone at least once before.”

There’s been an uptick in schools turning to ballots for funding since the late 2000s, when property tax caps and a new school funding formula when into effect.

Since referenda last for seven years, we can expect to see more referenda renewals on the ballot in coming years.

Legislative Tracker: Education in the 2016 Session

Following up on last year’s “education session,” 2016 looks to be another busy term for lawmakers in Indiana’s General Assembly.

Legislative meetings aside, there’s a lot going on in education right now – some proposed bills even overlap one another. So, to keep things neat and organized we’re compiling an up-to-date, easy-to-read list of the school-related bills we’re following at StateImpact. 

Check out where those measures are in the process – followed by links to the bills themselves and some of our continuing coverage:

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Next Step
SB 4Sen. Mark StoopsAllows state to assign schools the greater of its 2013-14 or 2014-15 A-F grade for the 2014-15 school year. Mandates ISTEP+ results be used in teacher evaluations for the 2015-16 school year.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 9Sen. Jeff RaatzRemoves requirement that charter schools report certain data to the IDOE. First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 10Sen. Jeff RaatzTweaks factors used to determine increases or increments in teacher salary ranges.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 34Sen. Timothy LananeAllows school districts control over its property tax reductions & credits. First readingCommittee on Appropriations hearing
SB 73Sen. Jean LeisingRequires school districts to include reading & cursive writing in its curriculum. First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 93Sen. Dennis KruseVarious education matters, including requiring ISTEP+ results are delivered in a timely manner and amending disability categories.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 147Sen. Phillip BootsRequires establishment of minimum standards and approval of best practices for a school emergency response system First readingCommittee on Homeland Security & Transporation hearing
SB 175Sen. Jean LeisingRequires state to establish appropriate academic standards and curricula concerning health education.First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing
SB 200Sen. Dennis KruseRequires state to assign 2013-14 A-F grade for 2014-2015 school year, if 2014-15 grade is lower. First readingCommittee on Education & Career Development hearing

Source: Indiana General Assembly


Keep up with our tracker throughout the legislative session here

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Uncharacteristic For November, Most Referenda Pass

Four of seven school-related ballot measures passed during Tuesday’s municipal elections, a much larger proportion than Indiana normally sees in November polls.

Trends persisted as Hoosiers in only seven districts saw referenda on their local tickets.

But voters bucked the norm by approving more than half of those measures. Typically, researchers say, referenda have a better chance of passing in May, since pro-referenda voters aren’t the majority of those who turn out for fall ballots boasting big races such as mayoral contests or city council races.

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School Corporation
Tax rate
Total amount
Percent yes
Percent no
Greater Clark County Schools11/3/2015Construction$0.39$109,200,000Fail24.93%75.07%
East Noble School Corporation11/3/2015Construction$0.34$38,800,000Pass63.24%36.76%
Whitley County Consolidated Schools11/3/2015Construction$0.59$85,000,000Pass61.78%38.22%
Fremont Community Schools11/3/2015General Fund$0.19Pass55.57%44.43%
Lake Station Community Schools11/3/2015General Fund$0.61Fail27.90%72.10%
North Judson-San Pierre School Corporation11/3/2015General Fund$0.47Fail31.49%68.51%
Zionsville Community Schools11/3/2015General Fund$0.24Pass67.28%32.72%

Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance

Indiana lawmakers implemented property tax reform in 2008, which resulted in a smaller portion of tax revenue distribution to school corporations. That’s why local school corporations tend to turn more to voters now to help foot the bill for construction and other projects.

Including Tuesday night’s results, just over half of the 128 school-related measures brought forth in Indiana since 2008 have passed. Check out our referenda scorecard to see how voters weighed in on those measures.

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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:

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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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Simplifying Legislation In This “Education Session”

The Indiana General Assembly is in the process of hearing a number of proposals for new education legislation. (Photo Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)

Lawmakers are in the process of hearing a number of new education proposals. (Photo Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr)

Countless lawmakers have dubbed 2015 the year of the “education session” in the General Assembly.

It’s an apt nickname – there’s a ton of school-related issues to keep track of right now. So much so that even experts get confused about which bill is which, and where it is in the process of potentially becoming law.

So, let’s break it down.

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New Bill Calls For Appointed Superintendent, Beginning 2021

State superintendent Glenda Ritz listens to comments from the public during a hearing at Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

For months, current state superintendent Glenda Ritz has been at the center of controversy involving the State Board of Education, a group she chairs. (Photo Credit: Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

We’ve been hearing the same story for months: State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education don’t really get along. People say the drama keeps the group from getting anything accomplished.

We may see a remedy for the problem during the 2015 legislative session.

Could appointing the superintendent, rather than electing someone to the position as is customary in Indiana, force the state’s education leaders to work together?

Old Problems, New Solution

Bickering has become somewhat of a norm at state board meetings. Issues of power and responsibility have made the agenda in addition to – and sometimes, overshadowing – actual education policy matters, and it’s become a major problem. So much so, that Governor Mike Pence made “playing referee” a centerpiece of his 2015 legislative agenda.

“To maintain our momentum and to implement new policies, we’ll also need to fix what’s broken in education in Indiana,” Pence said at a legislative conference late last year. “For education to work in our state, it has to work at the highest levels.”

Pence offered an olive branch of sorts by eliminating his education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, appeasing Ritz. The governor has also called on legislators to allow state board members to elect their own board chair, rather than let the superintendent automatically assume that role.

But neither of those ideas address what many people see as the root of the problem.

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What A-F Grades Mean For Focus And Priority Schools

Generally speaking, the release of A-F grades this year brought good news; the amount of schools receiving A’s went up while the number of F’s handed out was the lowest in the last few years. This good news continues for schools on the Department of Education’s focus and priority schools list.

(Search our sortable table of 2014 A-F grades for all Indiana schools.)

First, a primer on how a school gets on the priority list and how they can be removed from it:

Priority Schools

The 2013 list of priority schools contained 174 schools. Following the criteria above, 16 schools will be removed from the priority list this year, and 34 schools could be removed from the list next year if they earn a C or B. Continue Reading

Sortable Table: 2014 A-F Letter Grades For Every Ind. School

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Use the table below to search 2014 school letter grades for all Indiana schools — traditional public, charter, and private.

Click on the arrows to sort the table by corporation name, school name or score.

Type in the “Filter” box to search by county, corporation name, school name or score.

PLEASE NOTE: We’ve included 2011, 2012 and 2013 school ratings as a reference. These were all calculated using a different model. The State Board of Education is working with the Accountability Panel to create a new model for next year.

Sortable Table: Who’s Funding Your Representative?

In a mid-term election with no big races, education could prove to be the most important issue to voters.

StateImpact Indiana

In a mid-term election with no big races, education could prove to be the most important issue to voters.

A few days ago, we told you education could be the biggest issue facing voters at the polls Tuesday in an otherwise lackluster mid-term. Today, we’ve gathered some evidence to prove that point.

Below is a sortable table of campaign donations to both state Senate and House candidates from education focused organizations: PACs, unions and individuals who are key stakeholders in Indiana education.

As you look through the tables, you’ll see there are significant donations from these organizations, and in the case of many candidates, education related donations funded most of the campaign.

There are two donors the fueled the most money into Republican and Democratic candidates: IPACE and HQE (how they’re represented in the table). Indiana Political Action Committee for Education, IPACE, is the political action committee affiliated with the Indiana State Teachers Association and are mostly funding Democratic candidates. On the other side, Hoosiers for Quality Education, a PAC affiliated with the Institute for Quality Education, is funding Republicans who advocate for school choice. Continue Reading

More Indiana Students Graduating High School Without Waivers

Indiana's graduation rate has ticked up 10 points in the past five years.

Chris Moncus / Wikimedia

Indiana's graduation rate has ticked up 10 points in the past five years.

UPDATED, 3:56 p.m. EST: More Indiana students are meeting the state’s exit requirements before graduating high school, according to data the Department of Education released Wednesday.

Though the state’s overall graduation rate was virtually unchanged between 2012 and 2013, the non-waiver graduation rate increased about a point — up to 81.7 percent from 80.5 percent.

(Click here to find your school’s 2013 graduation rate.)

“While the overall graduation rate is largely the same as it was in 2012, when you dig into the data it becomes clear that more of our students are graduating without a waiver and passing their end of course assessments,” says state superintendent Glenda Ritz. “This is a crucial step in ensuring that our students graduate from high school both college- and career-ready.” Continue Reading

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