Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

This Week At The Statehouse: A Slow Start To The Second Half

In a 41-9 vote, state senators pushed ahead a two-year, $32 million proposal that would modestly expand state-funded preschool beginning July 2017.

Pre-K continues to be one of the most debated education bills this session. (photo credit=”Sonia Hooda / Flickr

At the halfway point in the legislative session, the bills passed in the first half, by House or Senate, move on to the other chamber.  So this week, a few education bills that made that cut got their first hearing in the House or Senate education committees.

The House committee only heard two Senate bills this week, one regarding emergency medications in schools and another on 529 savings plans.

Any amendments or votes on those won’t come until next week at the earliest.

Seven major House education bills got their first hearing Wednesday in the Senate’s Education and Career Development committee. These include teacher background checks, prayer in school and suicide prevention training. These bills could start moving forward in the process, with amendments or votes, as early as next week.

Part of the pre-K expansion bill is facing opposition because of a provision that says acceptance into the On My Way Pre-K program also means acceptance into the state’s private school voucher system. More than a dozen people, including a House lawmaker, testified against that portion of HB1004 Wednesday.

Child advocacy groups are still asking lawmakers to increase funding for pre-K to $50 million. The House bill currently proposes a $10 million funding increase.

Senate lawmakers approved their own version of preschool expansion with a smaller $3 million bump.

Help us help you! We want to know what you want covered. Have a question or story idea? A specific policy that deserves more explanation? Reach out! Leave a comment or reach reporter Peter Balonon-Rosen at pbalonon@indiana.edu and reporter Claire McInerny at clmciner@indiana.edu.

Indiana Youth Suicides Increase As Schools, Lawmakers Seek Fix

Rebecca Heger, Cathedral High School's mental health and addictions counselor, looks at 2-year-old Finn, a therapy dog at the school since 2015. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

Rebecca Heger, Cathedral High School\’s mental health and addictions counselor, looks at 2-year-old Finn, a therapy dog at the school since 2015. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media)

Suicide remains the second-leading cause of death for Hoosier teens and young adults in 2014 and 2015, according to a just released report.

Among a majority of states, Indiana ranks second for high schoolers who made a suicide plan and third for those who have seriously considered suicide.

In 2014 there were 52 suicides among youth ages 10-19. In 2015 the deaths increased to 55, according to state data.

Those jarring statistics and regular news reports of students taking their own lives have lawmakers, school leaders and mental health experts looking for ways to prevent another death.

At the Statehouse, two different suicide prevention proposals have garnered universal support this session — yet it remains to be seen how the House and Senate will compromise their unique plans.

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Meet The Students With Autism Facing College Head-On

Reagan Roush, center, makes a creamy chicken fajita pasta dish at a weekly cooking skills class at the College Internship Program in Bloomington, IN. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Reagan Roush, center, makes a creamy chicken fajita pasta dish at a weekly cooking skills class at the College Internship Program in Bloomington, Indiana. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Reagan Roush likes things spicy.

“When I make Mexican ground beef, I add an onion and a green pepper and three habanero peppers,”  Roush says, with a smile. “And yes, it is hot.”

For Roush, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, cooking is more than just the steps to a tasty meal. To him, it’s a sign he’s moving toward his ultimate goal: independence.

Like peers throughout the country, Roush, a sophomore at Indiana University, is a member of the first generation of college students with a widespread autism diagnosis reaching campuses. The growing numbers of students with autism on campuses reflect a change in the way doctors began to look at autism in the 1990s. Awareness spread, diagnoses increased, and school services emerged to include these students in mainstream classrooms.

At Indiana University, in the past decade, the number of students self-identifying as having autism has increased tenfold. In spring 2008, five students registered with the school for academic accommodations related to autism. Today, that number exceeds 50 students.

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A Tale Of Two Pre-K Bills: What Is The Future Of Early Ed?

Students at a pre-kindergarten camp in Avon, Ind., play a counting game. Many are calling on the legislature to expand the current pre-k pilot program to help more kids. (Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

Students at a preschool camp in Avon, Ind., play a counting game. Many are calling on the legislature to expand the current pre-K pilot program to help more kids. (Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana)

The second half of the legislative session begins this week, and the House and Senate have two very different bills to expand state funded pre-K.

Both bills passed out of their original chambers and are now being considered by the opposite chamber of the statehouse. Before the session, both Republicans and Democrats supported expanding the pilot program and allocating more money for preschool scholarships for low-income children.

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Private School Vouchers Hit Record High But Growth Slows

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For the first time the number of Hoosier students using publicly-funded vouchers to attend a private school reached 3 percent of statewide enrollment, according to a new report.

Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program hit a record 34,299 students this academic year using the controversial tuition support but the overall growth of the program appears to be slowing down.

The Choice Scholarship Report, released by the Indiana Department of Education, also shows only a 5 percent increase of new students in the program for the 2016-17 school year compared to 2015-16.

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From Pre-K To Prayer: Education Bills That Could Become Law

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn (center) is head of the Senate Committee on Education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn (center) is head of the Senate Committee on Education. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

So far this year, Indiana lawmakers have been debating, tweaking and analyzing a slew of education bills that could become law. They cover a range of topics: from preschool expansion, to school funding, to prayer in school.

This week was the halfway point for this year’s legislative session, and the Senate and House each passed the bills they are advancing to the next chamber. We’ve been following along.

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State Rep. To DeVos: Hire More Educators On Your Staff

Representative Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to hire a public school educator as her Deputy Secretary. (photo credit: Indiana House of Representatives)

Rep. Melanie Wright (D-Yorktown) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to hire a public school educator as her Deputy Secretary. (photo credit: Indiana House of Representatives)

Indiana Rep. Melanie Wright (D-Yorktown) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Thursday, asking for DeVos to hire more educators on her staff.

Wright’s letter asks DeVos to hire a deputy secretary with extensive experience in public schools. She says this request follows up on concerns expressed during Betsy Devos’ confirmation hearing: Devos has no experience in public education, which she now oversees.

Wright says she respects that the president can appoint anyone he wants, and she can’t change the confirmation. But she does hope DeVos will add an educator to her staff.

“I think it’s important that we harness the energy of our educators, our teachers, our teacher leaders, our building principals, and our superintendents,” Wright says. “Because they are on the front lines of how we are battling poverty, and in some ways the addiction issue.”

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Indiana To Investigate Lead In Public Schools’ Water

The Indiana Finance Authority will offer free lead testing for water in public schools. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Finance Authority will offer free lead testing for water in public schools. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Finance Authority will offer free drinking water tests at all of the state’s public schools.

The program, which was launched last week, will allow interested school districts to apply to the authority for lead testing in water sources. Water sources may include drinking water fountains, ice machines, food-preparation sinks, and other fixtures that provide water for human consumption.

Jim McGoff, the authority’s director of environmental programs, expects to find most schools at a satisfactory level, but says there is a plan in place for schools with elevated lead levels in drinking water.

“If a sample test reveals elevated lead levels, the IFA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management will work with the school district to map out next steps to address the situation,” McGoff said, in a statement. Continue Reading

Indiana Pre-K Expansion Moves Forward At Statehouse

In a 41-9 vote, state senators pushed ahead a two-year, $32 million proposal that would modestly expand state-funded preschool beginning July 2017.

In a 41-9 vote, state senators pushed ahead a two-year, $32 million proposal that would begin a modest expansion of state-funded preschool in July 2017. (Sonia Hooda / Flickr)

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to advance a proposal to expand state-funded preschool in Indiana.

In a 41-9 vote, state senators pushed ahead a two-year, $32 million proposal that would modestly expand state-funded preschool beginning July 2017.

“It is not universal pre-K, there are a finite number of potential 4-year-olds [covered],” says Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Blufton), who authored the bill.

The preschool expansion proposal would increase annual funding for the state’s current preschool pilot from $10 million to $13 million. It would also add $1 million for “in-home early education services.”

Under current law, state funding is available for low-income children in five specific counties to attend highly rated preschools. This expansion would allow about 1,850 new children to attend elsewhere in the state.

Many Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, Democrats and business leaders wanted a larger increase. In the months leading up to Tuesday’s Senate vote, state-funded pre-K expansion enjoyed broad support from all of these groups, and Holcomb called for it to a least double the amount of current funding.

Yet, last week the Senate appropriations committee chose its own path and cut the bill’s proposed increase, from $10 million to $3 million. On that occasion, Republican Senate Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley said he doesn’t want to expand the program more until he sees a study showing it is effective.

However, Senate Democrats raise similar concerns over the bills funding for “in-home early education services.”

“Five percent of funds is being carved out for a program that has not been studied for decades, like preschool has,” says Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington). “It’s important that we expand preschool in the state, that kind of giveaway is removed and we increase the funding for this program.”

The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union, supports preschool expansion, but raised similar concerns over money going to digital programs.

“The little amount of increase that’s going into this, we’re taking a million of that and putting it into a program that we have no evidence whether its worked or not,” says John O’Neill, ISTA spokesperson.

Other Democrats raised concerns over the amount of funding brought to the expansion.

“I appreciate that we are increasing somewhat that level of funding, but this is something that every child in the state of Indiana could benefit from,” says Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson).

The bill also maintains funding for the state’s early education matching grants. That bill, SB 276, now moves to the House.

House Passes Budget With Modest K-12 Funding Increase

House lawmakers passed their version of the budget Monday, which gives minimal funding increases to school districts. The Senate will now discuss the budget.

House lawmakers passed their version of the budget Monday, which gives minimal funding increases to school districts. The Senate will now discuss the budget. (photo credit: Bill Shaw/WFIU)

The two-year House Republican budget was approved Monday despite criticism from Democrats that the education funding lacks transparency and will hurt rural schools.

Under the plan, K-12 education funding would be increased by 1.1 percent in the first year, and 1.7 percent in the second year, or a total of $273 million. That’s about $7 million less than Gov. Eric Holcomb had sought.

Crawfordsville Republican Rep. Tim Brown, chairman of the budget-making Ways and Means Committee, said the budget is a honest assessment of the state’s fiscal outlook. K-12 spending, he said, is a top priority as it makes up more than half of the state’s proposed $31.7 billion budget

The bill includes an additional $10 million to the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program and increases the per student severe disabilities grant by 2 percent each of the next two years.

It also eliminates the controversial $40 million teacher bonus program

Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) criticized the plan, saying all schools should receive more money. Instead, the budget leaves some 200 schools with a less than 1 percent funding increase next year.

“We really wanted to see common ground when it comes to the state budget,” Porter says. “A budget that I think we all could live with. One without winners or losers.”

Following Porter to denounce the bill was Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis). Both made failed attempts last week to amend the budget.

DeLaney said rural schools would be hit the hardest by the budget. Of the 25 largest reductions in funding, 22 are rural, such as Attica Consolidated Schools. The budget calls for a 9.7 percent cut in tuition support at the district over the next two years

But Brown, says he doesn’t see a problem that some corporations will see cuts.

“I am agnostic to corporations,” he says, adding that school districts of all sizes can fail students and help them succeed.

Students will leave schools to find better fits, he suggested, and that the money would follow.

“I am looking at children,” he says. “And when the children – the per child funding – goes up, every child is counted.

Porter also called for funding streams of traditional schools, charter schools and private school vouchers to be separated.

Brown countered that charters and schools in the Choice Program already face much tougher accountability than traditional schools.

The budget passed on a 68-29 vote. It now heads to the Senate where it can face changes. April 29 is the last day for legislation to be passed by both chambers before it is sent to the governor for final approval.

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