Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Bill To Change State Board And Remove Ritz Passes House

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as chair of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz currently serves as chair of the State Board of Education. Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana

The House today passed Senate Bill 1, the measure that would change the makeup of the State Board of Education, including removing the state superintendent as chair and letting the board choose its own chair from among its ranks.

The House voted 55-41 to accept the updated version of the bill, which we outlined in detail here.

In addition to removing the state superintendent as chair of the board, it also changes the following aspects of the board:

  • Adds two members to the board.
  • Increases the number of members with education experience from four to six.
  • Gives one board appointment each to the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem. The governor would still have 10 appointments.

Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, sponsored the bill in the House and says despite testimony to the contrary, the bill is not about politics.

“It is strictly about policy and getting the right policy in place,” McMillin says. “What we are considering doing here and what we are discussing here is giving the State Board of Education the opportunity to select their own chairperson and also doing some things differently with the board.”

The bill now goes back to the Senate so they can approve the House amendments. It could be sent to conference committee or if passed again there, it will be voted on by both chambers again before going to the governor to be signed into law.

Legislative Update: State Board Chair And Senate Budget

As the so called “education session” gets closer to an end, the General Assembly is finalizing a number of education bills to send to the governor’s desk. One of the major decisions the legislature is debating is how the state funds school districts. Another is whether to keep Glenda Ritz the head of the state board of education.

StateImpact Indiana’s Claire McInerny appeared on Indiana Newsdesk Friday to give an update on some of the education bills still up for amendments before final passage.

House vs. Senate: A Comparison Of School Funding Formulas

The Senate released its version of the 2015-2017 budget Thursday, with K-12 and higher education receiving a combined 63 percent of state funds. The way the Senate proposes to fund schools differs slightly from the House’s budget, mainly in how it funds low-income students.

(Read more about the Senate’s proposed budget)

To illustrate the differences between the two budgets, we looked at the per pupil amount for a variety of school corporations ranging from rural, urban, low-income and affluent. Hover over the bars in graphs below to see exact amounts:

Here’s a direct comparison between the House and Senate budgets for these school corporations:

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Bill To Change State Board Chairmanship Still Alive

In the waning days of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers have yet to decide the fate of the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse in February. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

Superintendent Glenda Ritz appears at a rally on her behalf at the statehouse in February. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee/WTIU)

The House Committee on Education held its final hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 1, a measure that would allow SBOE members to elect a chairperson within their ranks – rather than the elected state Superintendent automatically fill that position.

The bill passed committee 8-4.

Language added to the measure would also shift who makes board appointments. Right now, the governor names all members other than the superintendent. Many have suggested designating some appointments to various legislators – an idea committee chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, echoed in an amendment he proposed early Thursday.

That amendment distributes power for board assignments as such:

Governor = 10

House Speaker, in consultation with the House minority leader = 1

Senate President Pro Tem, in consultation with the Senate minority leader = 1

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Senate Echoes House Counterparts In Constructing Budget Proposal

As the 2015 “education session” of the Indiana General Assembly draws to a close, lawmakers are making final moves – perhaps most notably in all sectors, finally whittling down the biennial budget.

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

The budget currently sits in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee, whose proposal released Thursday mirrors much of the House version put out last month.

K-12 and higher education combine to make up 63 percent of the proposed $31.5 billion two-year appropriations. Appropriations chair Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, says his committee wants to increase K-12 funding by $466 million over the biennium.

As you’ll remember, Indiana’s school funding formula relies heavily on two measurements: foundation (base funds per student) and complexity (money set aside for at-risk students).

Like the House GOP, Senate Republicans want to see foundation increase:

FY 2016: $4,943 per student

FY 2017: $5,052 per student

What looks a bit different is the calculation for complexity money, based on shifting the definition of “at-risk.”

That number used to be calculated based on how many students received free textbooks, followed by students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. The House proposed changing the definition to include only students receiving free lunch.

The Senate wants to base the calculation on what’s known as “direct certification.” In other words, if a child’s family qualify for one of three federal low-income services – foster care, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – the federal government will automatically notify the state Department of Education that he or she qualifies for complexity money.

“That’s a pretty big change,” Kenley says. “This is somewhat of a balancing act.”

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Indiana’s Reputation Post-RFRA Reaches Potential College Students

Universities around Indiana are responding to the religious freedom bill passed last week.

Universities around Indiana are responding to the religious freedom bill passed last week. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act dominated headlines last week and garnered national media attention. In response to the law, corporations, organizations and other state governments announced they wouldn’t work with Indiana if the law remained intact.

The portrayal of Indiana in national media also affected the decisions of a more impressionable group of outsiders: high school seniors from other states considering Indiana colleges and universities.

Almost every day this month, hundreds of prospective students will visit Indiana University’s campus. They either recently committed, or are trying to get one last feel for the university before choosing a school by the May 1 deadline.

Liam Dixon is one of those students taking an April campus tour. He applied to 18 universities and has spent the majority of his senior year at his home in Irvine, Calif. trying to decide which one is the best fit for him. He recently settled on IU.

Liam Dixon, a high school senior from Irvina, Calif., will attend IU-Bloomington this fall. He visited campus for the first time this week, after reading about Indiana's religious freedom law.

Liam Dixon, a high school senior from Irvina, Calif., will attend IU-Bloomington this fall. He visited campus for the first time this week, after reading about Indiana’s religious freedom law. (Photo Credit: Barbara Harrington/WTIU News)

Around the same time he committed to IU, the news of Indiana’s religious freedom bill reached Dixon in California, where he goes to school with openly gay students and lives in what he calls a very open-minded community.

“I didn’t know how to interpret hearing they were being so close-minded and conservative on this on specific topic,” Dixon says.

Dixon wasn’t the only out-of-state student to question his decision about spending the next four years in Indiana after reading about the law. The Admissions Office at IU received multiple calls and emails from out-of-state students and their families.

“These are families that have developed relationships with us and they’ve visited us many times and they’ve been engaged with us throughout their process,” says Sacha Thieme, Executive Director of Admissions for IU. “They just want to know that the experiences that they’ve had with Indiana University and Bloomington to date are going to be the same experiences they can expect in the future.”

Thieme says although the concurrent timing of the commitment deadline and RFRA was unfortunate, it helped engage prospective families with IU and learn even more about the university.

“We welcome families to ask questions, we welcome students to ask questions, we’re an institution of higher education we invite academic inquiry,” Thieme says.  Continue Reading

Bipartisan Congressional Duo Releases NCLB Rewrite Bill

Senate leaders unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday to replace the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The bill, authored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), includes items that are attractive to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including state-crafted accountability systems and maintenance of the current federal testing schedule.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the bill, along with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who called it an “important step” and added that the President will continue to advocate for a measure that drives progress as well as helps to close nationwide achievement and opportunity gaps.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that the two have been brokering for more than two months.

Read more at:

House Ed Committee Votes To Keep ISTEP Over National Test

The State Board of Education will meet Friday to discuss this year's ISTEP+.

The State Board of Education will meet Friday to discuss this year\’s ISTEP+.  photo credit: David Hartman (flickr)

The House education committee voted 8-4 today in favor of an amendment that removes language from Senate Bill 566 that would have allowed the state to use a nationally crafted assessment rather than the ISTEP+.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, authored the bill as a cost-saving measure after learning how much it will cost to write a new assessment that matches the state’s new academic standardsa price tag currently set at $134 million.

Kenley’s suggestion of using a national test surfaced back in December, when state superintendent Glenda Ritz presented her budget to the Senate Appropriations Committee. But as the bill passed through the Senate and entered the House, critics emerged saying reverting to a nationally crafted test would be returning Indiana to the education situation it wanted to abandon when it left Common Core.

Michael Cohen, president of the national education consulting group Achieve, worked with Indiana when it pulled out of Common Core and wrote new standards. He testified to the committee today in favor of the amendment, saying dumping ISTEP+ and trying to make a national test fit Indiana’s unique standards could put the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver in jeopardy again.

In response to legislators that suggested taking an off-the-shelf test like NWEA and tweaking the standards to match the test, Cohen said that kind of change is not a tweak, but “major surgery.”

“We’re going to give control of Indiana’s test to a testing company,” Cohen said.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who helped author the amendment, says the test most people suggested replacing ISTEP+ with is NWEA, a test school districts currently use throughout the year leading up to the ISTEP+. The problem with using that test, says Behning, is it’s a completely different type of assessment and wouldn’t comply with state law.

“Reality is they (NWEA) have never created an end of course or summative exam and so Indiana would be venturing into totally uncharted territory,” Behning said.

Behning says the other issue with using an off-the-shelf test is most national tests are Common Core aligned and wouldn’t be able to assess the state’s standards.

The bill now goes to a summer study committee.

Legislative Budget Leaders Continue Push For National Assessment

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and wrote Senate Bill 566.

State senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) chairs the senate appropriations committee and wrote Senate Bill 566. photo credit: Gretchen Frazee / WTIU News

Budget leaders in both the state House and Senate continue to advocate for dumping the ISTEP+ as the state’s assessment and replacing it with a nationally crafted test as a cost saving measure for the state.

As we’ve reported, the State Board of Education is in the process of approving a new test for the 2015-2017 school year. The current price tag from the Department of Administration, who selects bids from testing companies, is $134 million.

But Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, doesn’t want to take the route of creating a new test tailored specifically to Indiana’s standards, which is why he wrote Senate Bill 566.

If signed into law, SB 566 would allow Indiana to use an already created national test in future school years rather than hiring a testing vendor to create the ISTEP+.

Before Indiana chose to leave Common Core standards last year, it was part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which would have provided a national test. But when Indiana left that consortium to write its own standards, the state also had to write a test that tested the new standards. Continue Reading

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