Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Don’t Expect Many Surprises In Obama’s State of the Union

Unlike many of his predecessors before him, President Barack Obama has let his hand show in the weeks leading to his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night – so, we’re confident we can fill you in on some of what to expect.

President Barack Obama delivers his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night. (Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

President Barack Obama delivers his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night. (Photo Credit: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr)

Education issues certainly took center stage in Governor Mike Pence’s annual State of the State address last week. President Obama has said he will lay out details on a few major school-related initiatives, but the topic will be one of many receiving air-time.

This year, the commander in chief tried something new, laying out some of the policies he intends to introduce in his annual address ahead of time, during trips across the country.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, he traveled to Tennessee with Vice President Joe Biden to announce what he called one of the most important proposal he’ll make Tuesday night: a new initiative aimed at making community college tuition free. We’ve already explained this idea in-depth, but here’s a basic rundown:

  • To qualify, a student must maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend school at least halftime, and
  • The president intends to help pay for those through a tax plan that would raise about $200 million over the next ten years.

It’s expected the president will unveil further logistics for the plan in his speech.

Video courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

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Dollars and Sense: What Will Obama’s Education Budget Look Like?

‘Tis the season: budget season.

As Hoosiers wait for the Indiana General Assembly to come out with a finalized state budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, America still awaits a budget proposal from President Barack Obama. Members of the Obama administration have hinted at details of his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, due out sometime next month.

President Barack Obama unveils his 2016 budget request sometime in February. (Photo Credit: mirsasha/Flickr)

President Barack Obama unveils his 2016 budget request sometime in February. (Photo Credit: mirsasha/Flickr)

If history repeats itself, we might expect the president to increase his funding request for the federal Department of Education in 2016. Last year, he requested an appropriation of $68.6 billion – an increase of $1.3 billion from 2014, and almost $3 billion more than in 2013.

Education spending makes up about four percent of the annual national budget, according to the Federal Education Budget Project.

The USED’s elementary and secondary programs serve approximately 50 million students in close to 17,000 school districts annually. Department programs also provide assistance to more than 13 million postsecondary students.

Here in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence named education as one of four main priorities in his recommended budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. K-12 and higher education spending combined would make up about 60 percent of that budget.

As we’ve reported, Pence’s initiatives for Hoosier schools would work toward two larger goals: getting 100,000 more students in B or better schools and achieving a five-fold increase in high schoolers graduating with an industry-recognized credential, both by the year 2020.

How do the governor’s plans for Indiana measure up against the president’s?

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Changing The Timing of School Referenda Could Change Outcomes

Paying for school is a big issue this legislative session. With proposed tweaks to the school funding formula, vouchers, and charter schools taking center stage in multiple budget proposals, among others, it is likely Hoosier schools could see different dollar amounts coming from the statehouse.

Districts could also see a shift in how they supplement that state funding.

A bill facing lawmakers this session could change the rules about when school corporations can propose referendum tax levies to support their general or capital projects funds.

The proposal, written by House Majority Whip David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, suggests requiring school referenda only appear on the ballot during general elections. Right now, they can come up in May or November.

With the implementation of property tax caps in 2008, districts have increasingly turned to referenda to finance school projects. (Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr)

With the implementation of property tax caps in 2008, districts have increasingly turned to referenda to finance school projects. (Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr)

Over the last five years or so, Hoosiers may have heard the word “referendum” more than they ever had before. In particular, school districts have been asking voters to consider raising their own property taxes more often.

Ever since lawmakers implemented property tax caps in 2008, the portion of tax money that could be distributed to school corporations has shrunk, causing this change in the way Indiana funds its public schools. Now, when a district experiences a revenue shortfall, it has become more common to pursue financing through a referendum.

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Will Lawmakers Allow 13 More Counties Into the Pre-K Pilot?

The first phase of the On My Way Pre-K program has only just begun, and lawmakers are already tossing around the idea of expanding the initiative.

A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Legislators in the state senate and house will each consider a bill this session that proposes widening the field of participating counties.

You may remember that after Gov. Mike Pence signed the program into law, interested communities submitted applications to the Family and Social Services Administration. The agency chose 18 finalists in June, later whittling the field down to the five current participants – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

Among those not selected: Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Kosciusko, Lawrence, Madison, Noble, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vigo and Wayne counties.

Both Senate Bill 344 and House Bill 1129 recommend extending the pilot to include those 13 counties.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, represents a district that is already part of the program, but says she wants to share the enthusiasm she sees in her district statewide.

“With some additional dollars and some additional counties involved, we might be able to spread that excitement for early childhood education,” Rogers says.

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Can Free Tuition Change Students’ Attitudes About College?

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it's a good opportunity for a national conversation.

The idea of providing community college for everyone seems a little lofty to some, but advocates say it’s a good opportunity for a national conversation. (photo credit: Ivy Tech Community College)

Leading up to his State of Union address later this month, President Obama announced last week he wants to make community college tuition free to encourage more people to get education beyond high school.

It’s a goal many people can get behind, but advocates in Indiana are more excited about the national platform for the conversation than the president’s proposal.

High School Education Is ‘Not Enough’

President Obama said his new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in America is the most important proposal of his State of the Union address he’ll give Jan. 20.

“I want to bring it down to zero,” he said in his announcement.

The plan says if a student maintains a 2.5 GPA while attending community college at least halftime, they wont pay any tuition.

And while the logistics of how to pay for this plan — and whether Congress will even pass it — are still unknown, higher education advocates are thrilled the White House recognizes something they’ve know for a long time.

“An education that stops at high school is not enough for today’s world,” Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder says. Continue Reading

Varied Reactions To Pence’s State of the State Education Agenda

Cheers and jeers – that is pretty much how the responses to Gov. Mike Pence’s State of the State address are divided among education pundits, leaders and lawmakers.

While some believe Pence’s proposal to increase charter school funding will benefit students and increase options for families, others see it as questionable bet. That is just one issue the Indiana education community is split on.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis

Here is a selection of the responses:

House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Pence set “exactly the right tone” for his caucus’ priorities, including a balanced budget and increasing public school funding:

“Although many issues will be addressed this year, there is no more important priority for the House Republicans in the coming session than education. It is my hope that we can invest more funding in public education than is in the current budget. I was pleased to hear the governor echo this call for investment in Hoosier classrooms.”

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Nothing Hoosiers Haven’t Already Heard In State of The State

Most, if not all of the education recommendations Governor Mike Pence made in his annual State of the State address Tuesday night were items Hoosiers have heard before from the lawmaker.

Gov. Mike Pence's third State of the State address focused heavily on education – something many Hoosiers expected. (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)

The third State of the State address from Gov. Mike Pence – pictured here at an event in Washington D.C. – focused heavily on education – something many Hoosiers expected. (Photo Credit: The Heritage Foundation/Flickr)

The governor’s speech reiterated many policy points he has revealed little by little since announcing his legislative agenda in December – including his nickname for the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly: the education session.

“The key to unlocking the full potential of our state is not in her factories and her fields. It is in her classrooms,” Pence said. “Let’s agree here and now that this will be an education session dedicated to improving all our schools for all our kids.”

Here are some of the highlights:

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Preliminary ISTEP+ Tests Experience Interruptions…Again

Updated, 4:03 p.m.: Technology directors at a number of Indiana schools report experiencing interruptions Tuesday as students take the preliminary test for this spring’s ISTEP+.

The "spinning globe" returned Tuesday, as schools across the state experienced interruptions during stress tests for the upcoming ISTEP+.

The “spinning globe” returned Tuesday, as schools across the state experienced interruptions during stress tests for the upcoming ISTEP+.

It’s an unwelcome déjá vu: districts already dealt with this headache back in the spring of 2013, when schools were forced to suspend testing two days in a row, after students encountered problems with the testing website. In the days that followed, testing company CTB/McGraw Hill – the same company administering this year’s test – blamed the issue on server problems.

The Indiana Department of Education settled with CTB/McGraw Hill to the tune of $3 million this past summer.

This time around, schools across the state were scheduled to administer the online “stress test” between 10 and 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Sam Klawitter, director of technology for Mitchell Community Schools, says by 10:07 a.m., a majority of the 270 students taking the test had experienced timeouts – and it only got worse from there. By about 10:15 a.m., it had become essentially impossible to continue administering the test.

And Klawitter is understandably frustrated.

“My reaction is kind of one of contained outrage – it’s rather disappointing when it fails every year,” Klawitter says. “The standard testing models that are in place for both Indiana and at a federal level are already fundamentally flawed in the expectations that they create for our students, but they’re further complicated by the fact that they’re technically impossible to execute.”

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Expect Education As A Primary Focus In Pence’s State of the State

As Governor Mike Pence delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday night, one buzzword this year is sure to be “education.”

2014 was a big year for education policy in the Hoosier state, and it sounds like the trend will continue into 2015, especially as the General Assembly’s new budget session gets underway.

Gov. Mike Pence delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday night.

Gov. Mike Pence delivers his annual State of the State address Tuesday night.

Pence has been promising a focus on schools since previewing his legislative agenda in early December, along with touting his “education budget.” It’s also a priority shared by both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature, who have also set forth heavy agendas for education policy and funding.

The governor gave a sneak-preview of how Indiana has been doing – and the moves he wants the state to make – during a legislative conference late last year. He cited a tuition support increase of $193 million in the last budget cycle, as well as $41 million for universities, and said Indiana is fully funding its teacher pensions, unlike other states.

He has promised to push to increase K-12 and charter school funding, eliminate the cap on school vouchers, and address financial needs for career and technical education – all promises he will likely reiterate tonight.

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