Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

The Next Push In School Choice: Clarifying The Options

As students go back to school this month, more of them are expected to be enrolled in private schools thanks to the state’s rapidly expanding voucher system.

There’s also been a new push to make it easier for parents to find alternative schools.

The Institute for Quality Education—a school choice group based in Indianapolis—launched a website earlier this year that allows parents to shop around for schools.

“Parents in Indiana are really fortunate that they have so many options. Now that we have those options in place, the challenge is getting the information out to the parents,” says Tosha Salyers, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Quality Education. “The goal of the site is just that to teach parents what options are available.”

website demonstration

Institute for Quality Education spokeswoman Tosha Salyers demonstrates the website. (Photo Credit: Gretchen Frazee) is much like a website you would use to find an apartment or home.

You pick what kind of school you want: a traditional public school, charter school or private school. Then you can filter it down to the schools near you, find out if you qualify for a voucher, and, if so, how to apply for one.

The site got more than 20,000 page views this summer as parents decided where to enroll their students.

“We’re getting a really great response from parents and I think that they are thankful that there is sort of a one-stop shop where they can go and get all the information they need,” Salyers says.

Public education advocates are criticizing the website, saying it gives too much weight to student test scores and is helping drive students away from traditional public schools.

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How Student Debt For Millennials Is Changing The Economy

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil's student debt si preventing them from moving forward with that decision.

Mallory Rickbeil and her boyfriend Chris Stearly want to buy a home, but Rickbeil’s student debt is preventing them from moving forward with that decision. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

The path to a college education has gotten pretty complicated.

The American job force is increasingly demanding a college degree, and at the same time it’s becoming more and more unaffordable to get one. Tuition is increasing and grants and financial assistance aren’t keeping pace. Young people are taking out thousands of dollars to get just a bachelor’s degree, and as we’ve reported, Indiana has one of the highest rates of college graduates defaulting on their student loans.

With the millennial generation carrying more student loan debt than any other, what does this do to the overall economy, as millennials move toward marriage and home buying? How will their habits change the landscape of higher education?

First Comes Love, Then Comes…Debt Payments?

Mallory Rickbeil and Chris Stearly just moved into a new house in Bloomington. This is the second place they’re renting together, and it’s an upgrade from their previous home.

“There’s so much space,” Rickbeil says. “Chris and I were looking around being like, ‘we have too much space.’” 

Roominess aside, the new house has one huge flaw: it’s not theirs.

“Chris and I have the same objective of wanting to have a house that we own, and at this point Chris is much more capable of doing that than I am – in a large part because of my student loans,” Rickbeil says.

Rickbeil owes thousands of dollars in student loan debt for a master’s degree she finished three years ago. She pays around $500 a month, which makes it tricky to make ends meet, let alone save for a house, something she and Chris are ready to do.

“If Chris and I were to buy a house, it would put more of the burden on him for making the down payment,” she says.  Continue Reading

MCCSC Still Unsure About Proposing Another Referendum

School board members in the Monroe County Community School Corporation are discussing a potential referendum that would continue a property tax increase from 2010. Back then, voters approved the hike for seven years – so funding runs out in 2016. As Mary Keck reports for The Herald-Times, the board still has to decide whether or not the ask is a good idea, and if so, they’ll need to figure out how much to ask for and how long it will last this time around.

Whether voters will see an MCCSC referendum question on their ballots in May or November of 2016 is still up in the air. At a work session Tuesday night, school board members mulled over when to ask voters to continue a property tax increase that was approved during a November election in 2010, and they aren’t likely to arrive at an opinion until the next school board meeting later this month.

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Legislative Study Committee Discusses Special Education Funding

School is back in session for members of the Indiana General Assembly.

The interim study committee on education met Tuesday for the first of four scheduled meetings following up on the 2015 “education session.” This time around they focused on special education, specifically how services are delivered to the state’s youngest learners and how those services are funded.

(Photo Credit: Kerrianne Dimitrievski/Flickr)

(Photo Credit: Kerrianne Dimitrievski/Flickr)

Children requiring special education services are separated into different groups based on their identified needs – for example, learning disability, speech delay, autism spectrum disorder, mild cognitive delay or other health impairment, just to name a few. If specialists are unable to narrow down a child’s specific issue, they are simply identified as “developmentally delayed.”

Research has shown that you can only acquire an accurate assessment of a child’s IQ after age eight; up until that point, it’s just an estimate.

For that reason, for the purposes of funding, all preschool-age kids in Indiana are counted simply as “developmentally delayed.” Schools receive the same rate of funding: $2,750 per child to help serve the student, no matter his or her disability.

As students move up to kindergarten and beyond, they are funded differently. K-12 schools receive funding for special education based on divisions of these groups into three categories:

  • Category 1: Severe disability (i.e. autism, blindness): $8,800 per student
  • Category 2: Mild disability (cognitive and emotional): $2,300 per student
  • Category 3: Speech/language impairments: $500 per student

There is no “developmental delay” category in Indiana once a child reaches kindergarten – therefore, no corresponding funding exists for kids who may not have reached a point in their maturity where experts can assess their specific disability.

Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, says it’s that gap in funding that he hopes to address, so that no kids have to fall through the cracks.

“A handful of these kids will go back into a mainstream classroom and a year or two later, we’ll identify some other disability, and then they’ll come back,” Miller explains. “It would be best if those kids were served all along, as opposed to not getting those services.”

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Are Lower Interest Rates The Answer To Student Loan Debt?

This is pretty wonky, but stay with us: the conversation surrounding student debt is growing as a number of presidential hopefuls are rolling out their plans for dealing with what many see as a national crisis. One main point of the most recent plan – Hillary Clinton’s – involves lowering interest rates to help people who are already out of college pay down their loans. But as NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben explains, the problem is that this sort of proposal may not aid the borrowers who need the most help.

Everyone knows student debt is growing. College costs are growing. Student debt delinquencies are rising. And now Hillary Clinton has her own plan for how to stem that tide of financial problems for college graduates. On Monday, Clinton released a package of ideas aimed at helping Americans handle their college debt, which currently totals around $1.2 trillion.

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What Does Ritz’s Campaign Move Mean For The 2016 Election?

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced late Friday that she is taking her hat out of the race for Indiana governor in 2016, instead focusing on a run for reelection to her current post.

“Now is not the right time for me to run for governor,” Ritz said in a statement. “My work is not finished, and my passion is stronger than ever.  I am resolutely dedicated to educators, students, and families from Pre-K to graduation.”

The politician’s decision came as a disappointment to some, and a wise move to others:

…but the announcement did not particularly surprise most political experts:

“This was maybe a little sooner than it was expected to be,” agrees Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. “The announcement seemed to be an abrupt change in direction, but one that some people figured was going to be coming eventually.”

Downs points to low attendance at Ritz’s campaign-related events, especially in comparison to the education-related events she held as part of her regular superintendent duties, as well as the fact that she was unable to raise much money as warning signs the superintendent would likely pull out of the governor’s race.

Following her announcement, both of Ritz’s now former Democratic challengers – former House speaker John Gregg and current state Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage – expressed their support for her decision.

And Downs says Gregg in particular should be thanking Ritz for her exit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg (left) and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg (left) and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence. (Photo Credit: Brandon Smith/IPBS and Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“It actually makes [the governor's race] a little bit easier for John Gregg,” Downs explains. “He still has a challenger in Karen Tallian, but he can begin to focus on his own campaign and what he needs to do to win with candidates who have lesser name recognition and at this point, a whole lot less money. He can begin to focus a little bit more on Mike Pence as the person he talks about, as opposed to needing to defeat another Democrat in the Democratic primary.”

In fact, Downs says, Ritz’s decision appears to bode well for her party in the superintendent’s race, as well.

“As far as the Superintendent of Public Instruction is concerned, it gives the Democrats an incumbent, and in Indiana, incumbents have a tendency to win. The Democrats really ought to be happy about that,” Downs says.

And we can expect that superintendent’s race to heat up a bit now that Ritz has declared her intent to run for reelection.

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Ritz Drops Bid For Governor, Seeks Reelection As Superintendent

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced Friday she is dropping out of the race for governor just a couple of months after kicking off her campaign.

Ritz says she’ll instead focus on seeking reelection to her current post.

The school chief’s gubernatorial campaign has been beset by problems since its start only two months ago, from an apparent lack of campaign staff to extremely poor fundraising totals, as well as questions about the legality of some campaign contributions.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz will not seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz will not seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Ritz says while the state needs a new governor, now isn’t the time for her to run.  She says her work as superintendent isn’t finished and pledges to dedicate herself to students, educators and families.

“Under my leadership, I have brought the discussion of public education into the public discourse and have started to fundamentally change how we support schools,” Ritz said in a statement. “My work is not finished, and my passion is stronger than ever. I must continue to be 110 percent engaged in supporting public education.”

“I will continue to advocate for what is right to educate our children to improve our economy for all Hoosiers,” Ritz continues. “With the help of all of you, we will keep education the focal point of the gubernatorial race.”

“Glenda Ritz has always put the best interests of our school children first and this decision is another example of that,” said former House Speaker John Gregg, one of Ritz’s former opponents in the Democratic race, in a statement. “I look forward to supporting her re-election to the office of Superintendent and to working with her as Governor to further strengthen public education in our state.”

Ritz’s move leaves Gregg and just one other Democrat, State Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage, in the gubernatorial primary.

“Superintendent Ritz has been a champion for students, parents, and educators and I know that she will continue her outstanding work to ensure all Hoosier students have access to a high-quality education in our state,” Tallian said in a statement.

Experts say a potential new challenger, former Evan Bayh aide Tom Sugar, could also join the race.

State Democratic Party Chair John Zody says he understands and respects Ritz’s decision, noting Hoosier families can still have confidence in her leadership at the Statehouse.

Academic Standards Highlighted Briefly in GOP Debate

School is just starting in many districts in Indiana and across the country – and it looks like many of the candidates for president are coming back from their own “summer break” of thinking about school, too.

The top ten Republican presidential contenders took to the stage in Cleveland Thursday night, introducing themselves to the nation in the first of many televised debates, hosted by Fox News.

Education was noticeably absent from much of the discussion – instead, topics including illegal immigration, national security and social issues took center stage.

The top ten Republican candidates for president, as determined by national polling data, took part in a televised debate hosted by Fox News Thursday night. (Photo Credit: scrolleditorial/Flickr)

The top ten Republican candidates for president, as determined by national polling data, took part in a televised debate hosted by Fox News Thursday night. (Photo Credit: scrolleditorial/Flickr)

But a question tossed to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – the candidate with arguably the longest education résumé – at least started the conversation. A moderator asked Bush to address his stance on the Common Core State Standards, a system the politician has backed despite criticism from many of his opponents.

“I don’t believe the federal government should be involved with the creation of standards directly or indirectly, or the creation of curriculum or content,” Bush answered. “I’m for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way with abundant school choice.”

Bush engaged his opponent and fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, on the topic. Rubio pointed out he believes the federal government should stay out of standards decisions.

“We do need curriculum reform and it should happen in the state and local level. That’s where education policy belongs,” Rubio said. “The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied. They will not stop with it being a suggestion, they will turn it into a mandate.”

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Museums Face Access, Quality Challenges With Educational Programs

The options for Indiana’s youngest learners are expanding every day.

The hunger for preschool across Indiana continues to grow, fueled by initiatives like the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s Indy Preschool Scholarship Program, both initiatives targeted toward low-income families.

Momentum is so great that programs are popping up in places you might not otherwise expect them – like the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA has offered summer classes and supplemental educational programming for years, but this is the first time it is hosting a group of young children for a year-long classroom experience. And like many of these other institutions, the IMA has a lot to consider in starting this type of educational program.

‘The arts is a great natural fit’

Children and adults alike have had opportunities to experience the IMA beyond its galleries and exhibits for years. The museum offers an array of courses ranging from creative indoor workshops to interactive adventure sessions at one of its many garden and outdoor facilities.

There is also plenty of programming for school groups, who often schedule their own field trips to the museum. Heidi Davis-Soylu, the IMA’s manager of academic engagement and learning research, noticed that one such local group took frequent advantage of these events, and decided it was worth forging a partnership.

Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Art supplies line the countertop in a preschool classroom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A toddler art program came out of that collaboration with St. Mary’s Child Center, which expanded and evolved into what has now become the IMA preschool.

“We learned a lot about working with toddlers in the art galleries – what’s the good ratio? How do we make this a space where they feel like they belong, but they also know how to be quiet in the hallways if we need to?” Davis-Soylu explains. “Bringing in the arts is a great natural fit for early childhood education.”

So beginning this week, just as the museum is opening to the public, a gaggle of three- and four-year-olds is leaving the building at the end of their school day. This group of seven makes up the IMA’s very first preschool class.

“As the largest art institution in the state and as in schools cutbacks are happening for art education are happening, we’re charged with that task to play that role,” Davis-Soylu says.

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Will Education Come Up In Tonight’s GOP Debate?

On your mark, get set, go!

The 2016 presidential race is well underway, and already crowded pools of contenders have emerged on both sides. Voters will have their first chance to see the Republican candidates side-by-side in an early round of debates tonight.

Photo Credit: WFIU / WTIU News

(Photo Credit: WFIU / WTIU News)

10 of the 17 contenders for the GOP nomination will square off at a debate in Cleveland, Ohio. Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich were selected to participate based on national polling data.

It’s early, but already on the campaign trail candidates have touched on topics ranging from student debt to academic standards to teachers’ unions. Jeb Bush has made a political career largely based on his views on school matters, and a few other candidates have their own “pet” issues that could crop up, including charter schools (Rubio) and teacher tenure (Christie).

Allie Grasgreen of POLITICO’s Morning Education asked a few policy experts what, if any, education issues will make the cut tonight:

“With over 40 million people being crushed by student debt and parents identifying college affordability as their chief financial concern, I would be surprised if higher education didn’t come up,” Young Invincibles Executive Director Jen Mishory said.

But a senior policy analyst at the think tank Demos, which spearheaded the debt-free college idea, expects to see K-12 – namely, Common Core – emerge first. “It’s an issue that genuinely divides some of the candidates, and I would think that either Fox or the candidates themselves would seek to draw contrasts, particularly with such a large field,” Mark Huelsman said. If higher ed does get a mention, he added, it’d probably relate to President Barack Obama’s free community college proposal, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call for free tuition, or vocational education and the private sector. [...]

But Catherine Brown, vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, wasn’t optimistic. “What voters and parents really want to hear is how our next president will help ensure that all students receive a high-quality education,” she said. “But based on what we’ve heard so far from the GOP presidential candidates, we’re instead likely to hear misinformed statements about the Common Core, attacks on teachers, and praise for voucher programs that would redirect badly needed resources away from public schools.”

Education Week‘s Lauren Camera watched the candidates’ forum hosted in New Hampshire earlier this week and says it provided the best preview for what we’re likely to see tonight…

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