Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

White House Releases Guidance On Transgender Bathroom Use

The White House released guidance to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Pixabay)

The White House released guidance to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Pixabay)

The White House released guidance to public schools saying they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The guidelines issued Friday, don’t add requirements to current law, but say that schools are at risk of losing federal funds if they treat a transgender student differently from other students of the same gender identity.

The guidelines come while the federal government spars with North Carolina over laws barring transgender people from accessing bathrooms that don’t align with their biological sex.

Some Indiana school officials have already embraced the change, while others say single-user bathrooms are a better answer.

In Bloomington High School North, some of the bathrooms are gender neutral. A student’s gender when they’re taking care of business is no one else’s business, says Principal Jeff Henderson.

“We want to make sure that all of our schools are welcoming and safe environments for all of our students,” Henderson said.

While he says those new federal guidelines are nothing new at Bloomington North, he thinks they can start a conversation in the state.

“We’re hopeful here that the new guidance from the Obama administration will benefit our kids,” Henderson said.

The guidance from the Obama administration is just that – guidance. It basically says, “this is our interpretation of existing law.”

The federal guidelines make one thing clear – transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their current gender identity, if schools want to keep their federal funding. And schools can’t require transgender students to use individual facilities — otherwise they’re violating federal Title IX non-discrimination laws.

“Transgender women are women and transgender men are men  and they should be allowed to use the facilities that  correspond with their gender identity,” said Chris Paulsen, a spokesperson for Freedom Indiana.

The organization hopes to add gender identity sexual orientation to existing civil rights law right here in the state.

“This is one area where we definitely see schools leading the way,” Paulsen said.

But others say something else is happening in schools. Continue Reading

Educators On New ISTEP Panel Want Equity And Consistency

Ayana Wilson-Coles is the only classroom teacher on the new ISTEP+ panel that teaches a grade where students take ISTEP+. The panel is tasked with re-writing the state assessment, and meets for the first time May 24.

Ayana Wilson-Coles is one of two classroom teacher on the new ISTEP+ panel that teaches a grade where students take ISTEP+. The panel is tasked with re-writing the state assessment, and meets for the first time May 24. (photo credit: Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The new ISTEP+ panel tasked with re-writing the state assessment is established and will meet for the first time May 24. A majority of the panel’s members are teachers, principals and superintendents who have seen issues with the test first hand and want to see it change in ways that help teachers in the classroom and doesn’t marginalize certain groups of students.

As we’ve reported, legislation passed during the 2015 establishes a panel of educators, school administrators, parents, lawmakers and other stakeholders.

Legislation mandates the group must issue a report to the legislature by December. This report will guide legislative action in the 2017 session. The state’s current testing contract with Pearson expires after the 2017 administration of the test.

Of the 23 people serving on the panel, 12 are educators currently working in school districts (teachers, principals and superintendents). These educators say their goals for the re-write are informed by their work in their classrooms.

The Focus On ISTEP+ In The Classroom

One thing many educators have long criticized of the ISTEP+ is its prominence on a day to day basis in the classroom. Few teachers use it as a tool to gauge where students are academically. It’s true service is as a measuring instrument for the state, and educators have said that it looms on the minds of both teachers and students all year.

Ayana Wilson-Coles is a third grade teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Pike Township. She’s one of the two members of the ISTEP+ panel that teaches a grade that takes the test.

“The second half of the school year, starting in January, we are trying to prepare our kids for the test.”

This is one of the major issues Wilson-Coles wants to address: how much she has to prioritize preparing for ISTEP+. She says during second semester she spends a lot of instruction time making sure kids are familiar with the technology, have strategies for doing well on multiple choice and understand how the time constraints will work. She says her students feel pressure to do well.

“I had a lot of kids this past year, when we took the first [installment of the] ISTEP+, break down and cry,” she says. And once they are upset, they had trouble finishing the test. “It’s not that they didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t help them, and they were frustrated and they just cried. There was nothing I could do to make them finish the test.”

And because she’s making sure the kids are prepared for the format of the test, she thinks other educational opportunities are lost. She says if the ISTEP+ didn’t have such high stakes, her classroom could be a different place.

Continue Reading

Dept. Of Education Receives $5 Million To Attract Teachers

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz reads through a report drafted by her colleagues on the 2015 Blue Ribbon Commission. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The Department of Education is moving forward with efforts to help with teacher recruitment and retention thanks to a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz says the money established the Indiana Center on Teacher Quality at Indiana University, which focuses on increasing the number of qualified special education teachers in the state. The Center provides resources for scholarships for students wanting to become special education teachers and will also help facilitate professional development for these teachers.

The grant also creates a new position at the DOE that will focus on teacher attraction and retention in the state.

Ritz says this money allows the DOE to implement the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group of 50 educators headed by Ritz that met a few times before the legislative session. Some of the recommendations in the report needed legislative action to go into effect, but didn’t get it.

The DOE received the grant in January, but didn’t make the official announcement until today. During the legislative session Ritz was advocating for legislation that helped fulfill some of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations.

She says this grant allows the DOE to move forward with things that don’t need legislative approval, such as establishing mentoring programs.

“We will begin talking about a framework of what makes a great mentoring program in a school for beginning teachers,” Ritz said. She also said they would like to work in tandem with universities who are educating future teachers, and will attend a summit of higher education institutions this summer.

“We’ll talk about various items whether it be clinical experiences, whether it be recruitment strategies that they’re using– making sure they have a diverse workforce.”

The Indiana Center on Teacher Quality at Indiana University has been functioning since the announcement by the grant, and is run through IU’s Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and Center on Community Living and Careers.

Northwest Allen County Schools Could Eliminate Bus Service

Bus services are at the center of a conflict between the City of Ft. Wayne and the Northwest Allen County school district.

Bus services are at the center of a conflict between the City of Ft. Wayne and the Northwest Allen County school district. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

The City of Fort Wayne and Northwest Allen County Schools are disputing over money the school district could lose from the city’s annexation plan. The district’s school board voted Tuesday to eliminate bus service by 2018 if the city moves forward with the plan.

Superintendent Chris Himsel says the district has kept costs down over the years to maintain bus service after losing revenue due to property tax caps, but revenue loss as a result of annexation would be “untenable”.

According to the Northwest Allen County Schools website, the current amount of revenue lost to property tax caps is about $1.9 million. If annexed, that amount would increase to about $4.4 million.

The city issued a statement on Tuesday in response to the district’s bus service elimination, saying that that Himsel was using “scare tactics” to distress parents and students:

“As Dr. Himsel continues to place blame on the City’s annexation plan for the district’s budget woes, his scare tactics distressing parents and students is both disingenuous and fails to allow for a dialogue seeking collaboration on Fort Wayne and the region’s future,” the statement said. “Bussing challenges aren’t new to NACS and the City has met with Dr. Himsel on multiple occasions.

Fort Wayne’s City Council is expected to take a preliminary and final vote on the annexation’s funding plan Tuesday evening. If approved, discussion on the city’s annexation plan continues. If it isn’t, the city’s proposal fails.

State Board of Education To Meet Wednesday

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Whicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at April's meeting.

State Board of Education members Steve Yager, Cari Whicker and Vince Bertram listen to the presentation about the growth tables at April\’s meeting.” credit=”Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana

The State Board of Education meets for its monthly meeting Wednesday, with a fairly light agenda to tackle.

The board will approve the changing of governing body procedures in MSD Washington Township and Kokomo, such as how the school board is elected.

They also have the opportunity to approve technology and construction grants for a large number of school districts.

The count for special education students will also formally be approved. Students in Indiana are counted twice a year so the state has an accurate perception of enrollment at schools. The count for special education students shows an increase between the December count and the April count, with 319 more students enrolled with a physical or cognitive disability.

We’ll also get an update on testing and accountability. IREAD-3 tests from 2016 are scored but not available yet to the public. The accountability part of the update will focus on summer training sessions for schools to learn about the new A-F system approved at the April meeting.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in Room 233 of the Statehouse. Reporters Claire McInerny (@ClaireMcInerny) and Peter Balonon-Rosen (@pbalonon_rosen) will be at the meeting so follow them on Twitter for updates.

Program That Pays Students To Pass AP Tests Finding New Funding

Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma separately announced appointments to the panel that will recommend a replacement for Indiana’s current standardized test, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus or ISTEP. (David Hartman /Flickr)

A program that pays students and teachers for passing AP tests is seeing its funding stream shift. (David Hartman /Flickr)

A program that incentivizes students who enroll in Advanced Placement classes and pass the AP test is trying to continue without federal funding. The program has successfully increased the number of students taking and passing AP science, math and English classes in Indiana.

The program, AP-TIP IN, started in 2012 as a way to get students in districts with high numbers of minorities and students living in poverty to enroll in AP science, math and English classes. The program is through the National Math and Science initiative and the first three years in Indiana were funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The way the program works is the AP-TIP IN staff, located at the University of Notre Dame, works with schools that meet certain income requirements and have a large population of minority students. They then work with the schools to set goals for how many students will enroll in AP classes and how many of those will pass the AP test.

AP-TIP IN provides professional development for the AP teachers as well.

In the first three years of the program, 30 high schools participated, and every year the program saw an increase in the number of students enrolling in AP classes as well as the number of students who passed the AP test at the end of the year.

The first cohort of nine schools were in the program from 2012-2015. They saw a 66 percent increase in enrollment in those classes and an 87 percent increase in the number of students that passed the AP test.

Karen Morris is the head of the AP-TIP IN program and says the point of the program is to get students enrolled and succeeding in AP classes who might not have ever enrolled.

“We use the AP Potential tool as a means to identify students who have the potential for AP success but may not be enrolled in that course because they many not have ever been in a rigorous course before.”

This potential tool is using a student’s PSAT score and consulting with the guidance counselor to identify students who might do well in an AP class.

Students enrolled in an AP class at these schools and then pass the test at the end of the year receive a $100 incentive. AP teachers can receive up to $1000 if more than 90 percent of their class takes the AP test and if they meet their goal of students passing the test.

This is the first year the program is existing without the federal grant, but many schools are continuing to administer it through local donors.

A grant from the Commission for Higher Education pays for the professional development portion of the program, but Morris says they no longer have funding for the incentive portion. But some schools are continuing this part of the program by looking to local donors.

Washington High School in South Bend recently joined the program and is receiving its incentive money from the St. Joseph Community Foundation.

Morris says she’d like to see more state funding to keep this program going, but the attitude toward it has shifted since they began in 2012.

“When we started the program we were under a different governor and a different state superintendent and there was a culture for college and career readiness that focused on AP, IB and dual credit,” Morris says.


A Crash Course In Indiana’s School Funding Situation


Ballot referenda are becoming a more common way for school districts to get money lost to property tax caps and funding formula changes. (photo credit: auntneecey/Flickr)

Tuesday’s election brought forth a new crop of school districts asking voters to raise property taxes to sustain their schools.

As referenda become more and more common, more district superintendents are having to learn how to campaign.

David Shafer is the superintendent for Brown County schools, which posed a referendum in Tuesday’s primary. He says the community formed a PAC and spent a lot of time knocking on doors to spread the word throughout the community.

“It was enormously consuming as far as time and effort was concerned,” Shafer says. “I would concur that I don’t particularly like that, I don’t like going to the voters and asking them to approve a property tax increase.”

Ft. Wayne Community Schools chief financial officer Kathy Friend says she also formed a PAC and campaigned to pass her referendum.

“We spent about $40,000 getting our message out and it included mailers and social media,” Friend says.

The subject of educators campaigning came up during WFIU’s Noon Edition, where the conversation focused school funding.

Listen to the entire show and hear from tax experts and educators about how public schools are struggling to stay afloat. They touched on the rising number of school vouchers, property tax caps, and school funding formula changes.


School Civil Rights Complaints Reach An All-Time High

School-related civil rights complaints are at a a record high in 2015. (Source: Department of Education)

School-related civil rights complaints are at a a record high in 2015. (Source: Department of Education)

School-related civil rights complaints leapt to a record high in 2015, with 10,392 grievances filed with the U.S. Education Department.

Nearly half of the complaints were filed on behalf of students with disabilities and about one in five grievances alleged discrimination based on race, color or national origin, according to findings released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“OCR’s work over the last year has been absolutely pivotal to advancing the Department’s goal to increase equity and opportunity for all students,” John King, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a statement. “We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary.”

In the past decade the number of complaints filed by the OCR has surged by 88 percent, even as its staff levels fell by 15 percent. In 2005, the department received 5,533 complaints. In 2015, the number of complaints reached a record high of 10,392.

The department says they opened more than 3,000 investigations to protect students’ civil rights in 2015.

Areas with large increases in civil rights complaints include appropriate supports for English learner students, restraint or seclusion of students with disabilities, access to technology for students with disabilities and sexual violence at schools. Here are some major findings:

  • 21 percent of complaints were related to racial discrimination, with 1,862 complaints about exclusion, denial of benefits, racial harassment or retaliation in schools.
  • 28 percent of complaints were related to sexual discrimination, with 65 complaints about sexual violence in elementary and high schools in 2015.
  • The number of complaints involving English learners has more than doubled in the past decade. In 2015, the OCR received 82 such complaints.

The report also highlighted trends found in U.S. schools during the 2011-2012 school year.

  • Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students.
  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than students without disabilities.
  • Black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 42 percent of preschool children suspended once and 48 percent of preschool children suspended more than once.
  • Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.


These numbers provide a national snapshot of school investigations and monitoring work done by the OCR.

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to release state-by-state data from the 2013-14 school year later this year. We’ll take a look at Indiana’s numbers when that happens.

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.

Your Guide To The Ten School Referenda On Tuesday’s Ballot

It’s primary day in Indiana, and 10 school districts around the state are posing ballot referenda asking voters to raise property taxes to help fund schools.

The districts say they need additional revenue because of property tax caps instilled in 2008 and the updated school funding formula passed during the 2015 General Assembly.

Referenda posed during primaries usually pass at a higher rate, because typically primary elections aren’t as interesting to the general population, meaning those that are passionate about the referenda question show up to the polls.

But as we’ve reported, Tuesday’s primary could be the exception to the trend. With the high stakes and highly publicized presidential primary, local questions like school referenda might not be on many voters’ minds, which could lead to a no vote.

As results come in tonight, reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen will be tweeting updates (@pbalonon_rosen and @StateImpactIN) and will also post stories here.

Below is a list of all 10 school districts posing school referenda. Click the name of the school district to learn more about what they are hoping to accomplish with the money and what led them to take the question to the ballot:

Argos Community Schools

Brown County Community Schools

Ft. Wayne Community Schools

Hamilton Southeastern Schools

New Prairie United School Corporation

Noblesville Schools

Southwest Allen County

Speedway Schools

Southern Wells Community Schools

Wabash City Schools

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »