Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

A Fight Against Failure: Two Charters Struggle With Accountability

Options Charter School is one of the first charter schools to receive four consecutive Fs under the state accountability system. They appealed to the State Board of Education in March to stay open, and the board gave them one year to prove they are a high quality school.

Options Charter School is one of the first charters to receive four consecutive “F” grades under the state accountability system. The school appealed to the State Board of Education in March to stay open, and the board gave them one year to prove they are a high quality school. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

For years, one aspect of Unique Johnson’s personality hindered her in school.

“I’m a very quiet person and so I’m very shy at asking for help because I’m afraid someone is going to laugh at me cause I don’t understand it like everyone else,” Johnson says.

She’s a high school freshman, and since she was in fifth grade this shyness in asking for help meant she never earned anything higher than a C. In fact, mostly she earned Fs. Her ISTEP+ score always hovered on either side of passing, and in seventh grade she had to repeat two classes because of her failing score.

When she started her freshman year at Fishers High School, this trend continued.

But second semester freshman year, things changes and Johnson received an A on almost every test she took. The change? Johnson transferred to Options Charter School, a school where a lot of the students have stories similar to her own – maybe they fell behind in a traditional school, got kicked out or are struggling with personal or emotional issues and need a smaller environment to succeed academically.

It’s a school where students and teachers call each other by first name only, and students spend 30 minutes each day talking one on one time with a teacher – to catch up and make sure they’re on track. Principal Michelle Walden says this helps students feel more comfortable.

“If they feel like they belong here and they feel like they own it then they start to believe in education again and believe in themselves and we see achievement,” she says.

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Trend Continues As 12 Of 17 School Referenda Pass

Trends in school-related voting held remained the same this election cycle, which saw education referenda that in some cases were the only items on local ballots.

Thirteen Indiana school districts appealed to voters for their support in 17 separate referenda this spring. In total, twelve measures passed and five failed. See the breakdown below:

Show rows.
School Corporation
Tax rate
Percent yes
Percent no
Brownsburg Community SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.05Fail48%52%
Brownsburg Community SchoolsConstruction$0.41Fail47%53%
Community Schools of FrankfortConstruction$0.42Pass64.90%35.10%
Gary Community SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.41Fail35.23%64.77%
Hanover Community School Corp.General Fund$0.29Pass51.71%48.29%
MSD of Wayne TownshipGeneral Fund$0.35Pass64.18%35.82%
New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.Construction$0.20Fail44.69%55.31%
Perry Township SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.42Pass54.99%45.01%
Perry Township SchoolsConstruction$0.13Pass53.39%46.61%
Pike County School Corp.General Fund$0.29Fail31.89%68.11%
Rising Sun-Ohio County Comm. School Corp.General Fund$0.25Pass72.10%27.90%
River Forest Community School Corp.General Fund$0.42Pass65.75%34.25%
School City of Beech GroveGeneral Fund$0.35Pass75.84%24.16%
School City of Beech GroveConstruction$0.15Pass76.33%23.67%
Valparaiso Community SchoolsGeneral Fund$0.20Pass64%36%
Valparaiso Community SchoolsConstruction$0.65Pass63%37%
Warsaw Community SchoolsConstruction$0.14Pass62.31%37.69%

Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance

You can also check out our entire referenda scorecard, with district results dating back to 2008.

StateImpact’s favorite referenda expert, Larry DeBoer, says in general his theory is that referenda have a better chance of passing in May, since those elections don’t typically boast any big races and tend to draw a lot of pro-referendum support. Here was his reaction Tuesday night:

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Bloomington Debates Classical Charter School A Second Time

The battle over a proposed classical charter school in Bloomington continued Monday night, at a public hearing for the second go-around in front of the Indiana Charter School Board. That group will review comments received at the meeting and via email before making a final decision – again – later this month.

Seven Oaks Classical School, a proposed charter school for area students, could be one step closer to reality. Members of the Indiana Charter School Board will review comments received via email and a Monday night public hearing before they vote on a recommendation for the school’s application later this month.

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Curtain Call? State Board Could Look Different After May Meeting

The Indiana State Board of Education meets Thursday in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The State Board of Education meets Thursday in Indianapolis. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

School is almost out for summer, but the books never close for the State Board of Education.

The group continues its work Thursday in Indianapolis, in what could be one of its final meetings with the current roster of members.

Check out why, and what else is on the to-do list for the board’s May meeting:

Legislative session: The General Assembly wrapped up its 2015 session last week, and they didn’t call it the “education session” for nothing. Among the school-related items approved by lawmakers in both chambers was Senate Bill 1, a measure calling for major board shake-up, including:

  • Allowing the state superintendent to remain board chair until January 2017, after which the board will elect a chair annually from among its ranks,
  • Appointing a vice chair beginning July 1 of this year,
  • Reducing the number of gubernatorial appointments (previously 10) to eight, and
  • Allowing the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem to each appoint one board member.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz already shared her sentiments on the measure, as have a few board members. David Freitas, Gordon Hendry and Brad Oliver released a joint statement on Hendry’s website last week signaling their desire to remain on the board when it comes time to re-appoint members:

“There have been significant changes made in education policy in Indiana in recent years that have been challenging at times to work through as a Board. At the end of the day, we’ve crafted and implemented policies that have moved Hoosier schools in the right direction for our kids.

“As a bipartisan group, we’ve worked both with Indiana education leaders and groups such as the National Association of State Boards of Education to make sure our state is tackling tough challenges and helping families. We hope we will be able to continue that important work into the future.”

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Recap: Education Legislation Passed By 2015 General Assembly

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, speaks with reporters after the release of the budget.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, speaks with reporters after the release of the biennial budget. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

It was a legislative session dominated by education issues, and it’s finally over.

Since it was a budget session, legislators focused on funding. With more than 50 percent of the budget typically allocated to education, how the state funds schools remained at the center of most budget talks.

Now that the session is over and the dust has settled a little, let’s review which measures passed and what it will mean for Indiana’s students.

K-12 Funding

The budget, a brief 269-page document, contains important changes to how much money public schools will receive from the state. While legislative leaders tout this as the most money ever allocated to education (a $464 million increase), how schools get that money dramatically changed.

While the base amount given to each child went up, a separate pot of money for schools that serve low income students and students with special needs (called complexity) won’t be distributed as widely as before.

(Check your school district’s projected budget here. An important thing to remember: these dollar amounts are based on projected enrollment in these districts, so if you’re confused why a certain district is getting more or less than another, it’s probably based on that.)

In the past, a district serving lots of these students, like Indianapolis Public Schools, got more money than schools that didn’t. But at the beginning of this session, House Republicans said they wanted to close that gap and make school funding more equal.

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Glenda Ritz Considers Run For Governor, Will Decide By June

State superintendent Glenda Ritz told reporters Thursday the actions of the General Assembly this session regarding education are making her consider a run for governor in 2016.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz told reporters Thursday the actions of the General Assembly this session regarding education are making her consider a run for governor in 2016. (Photo Credit: Claire McInerny/StateImpact Indiana)

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz says she will consider running for governor in 2016, something she had previously dismissed.

Ritz says the actions of Governor Pence and the Republican-dominated legislature this session drove her to consider a 2016 campaign not for re-election for state superintendent, but rather the highest office in the state.

“Indiana does deserve better,” she says. “Perhaps the power of Indiana’s politics will see balance after the 2016 election.”

She says after this school year she will talk with her family and make a decision by June.

During the 2015 legislative session, a number of education bills moved through the General Assembly, including a new school funding formula and a restructuring of the State Board of Education.

Changing the makeup of the board was a legislative priority for Pence and the Republicans in both the House and Senate, who drafted various versions of the board in bills throughout the session. Some removed the state superintendent as the chair of the board immediately, but the final language in SB1 keeps on her through the end of her term in 2017.

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Lawmakers’ Final Attempt To Clarify State Board Makeup, Duties

Updated 11:58 p.m.: 

Indiana legislators finalized a contentious bill Wednesday night calling for several changes to the composition of the State Board of Education.

Over the course of this year’s “education session,” legislators tossed around a number of ideas to help ease strain on the board.

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives met Wednesday to finalize legislation on a number of different issues. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the Indiana House of Representatives met Wednesday to finalize legislation on a number of different issues, as did their Senate colleagues. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

The final version of Senate Bill 1 will allow state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to keep her position as chair of the board – at least until the end of her current term, in January 2017. After that, the board will elect a chair annually from among its ranks.

Board membership will remain at its current number of 11 members, including the superintendent. But, as has been tradition, board members will no longer be solely appointed by the governor. He’ll retain eight appointments, with the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem each adding one of their own.

The measure also provides for the board to elect a vice chair as early as July 1 of this year. Some lawmakers argued adding another leadership position could cause even more conflict.

Rep. Jud McMillin, one of the bill’s House conferees, says no matter who occupies those roles, they will have to work their issues out.

“That’s the whole point, is to get these people talking and communicating better,” McMillin says. “What this is simply asking is for two people who serve on the same board – who purportedly have the same goal in mind – to be able to talk well enough to figure out what items should be on the agenda for the next meeting. If they can’t agree on that, then we better come back here and do more.”

Other changes attempt to clear up fog between the board and the state Department of Education, a relationship that has caused much of the board’s tension. Legislators hope data sharing will become easier when they designate the board as a “state education authority” – a title that allows the group access to information that they’ve complained the IDOE doesn’t share.

The board will also gain authority to help shape the statewide standardized ISTEP+ test – a power previously reserved for the IDOE.

Senate Bill 1 passed the House by a margin of 60-38, and 31-17 in the Senate.

But the modifications didn’t stop there.

Leaders also tweaked the state budget – which has been a hot-button education issue all on its own, what with changes to the school funding formula – to include a few shifts between the board and IDOE.

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What’s the Word? Schools As Salespeople For Referenda

Election season is upon us once again – but we’d forgive you if you forgot.

School districts may turn to voters to help finance construction or general fund projects during elections. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr)

School districts may turn to voters to help finance construction or general fund projects during elections. (Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr)

May tends to host municipal elections – races without the fanfare of presidential, Congressional or gubernatorial races typical of November ballots. And that means the issues can take center stage.

School-related referenda dominate the ballots this time of year, and history shows that most of these measures that pass, pass in May – they have about a 50 percent success rate in Indiana. This could be because voters don’t want to pay more taxes, but some experts also point to a lack of understanding about what the additional tax money would pay for.

Campaigning For Cash

Ever since lawmakers implemented property tax caps in 2008, the portion of local property tax money school corporations can receive has shrunk. That means more districts are turning to referendum to pursue financing when revenue falls short.

This May, thirteen Hoosier school districts are asking for 17 separate tax levy increases on the primary ballot – a mix of construction and general fund supplements.

Just like in every election, they’ll appear at the bottom of the ballot, and they’ll all be constructed the same way. The Department of Local Government Finance requires a one-sentence paragraph outlining:

  • How much money the district needs,
  • What the money is for, and
  • What the request would do to the local tax rate.

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Legislative Budget Gives More Money To Students And Charters

The Indiana Statehouse.

The Indiana Statehouse. Photo Credit: Indiana Department of Administration

Before the final release of the state’s budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 later tonight, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, explained a few details regarding the new school funding formula.

As predicted, there will be a 2.3 percent increase in funding across the board, a $464 million bump over the two years, including an overall increase in per pupil funding for every student in the state.

The area where there was the most negotiating between the House and Senate was with the money given to low income students, called complexity. The budget uses the Senate’s proposal on how to define these students and fund the complexity dollar amount.

Rather than giving schools more money based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, as in the past, complexity money will be awarded based on children whose families 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). This measure will be phased in over the next three years.

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Federal Grant Could Improve Education In Indy Neighborhood

The federal government designated one Indianapolis neighborhood as a “Promise Zone” Tuesday, a designation that gives the low income area more access to federal grants to improve education, its economy and reduce crime.

Indianapolis was chosen out of 123 communities.

The area considered the near East side of Indianapolis, for the purpose of this designation.

The area considered the near East side of Indianapolis, for the purpose of this designation. photo credit: Google Maps

The Indy Star reports the designation is flexible and allows the community to focus on where it needs the most improvement.

Community leaders said the designation could prime the pump for grants on a number of fronts — from cleaning up polluted industrial sites to giving businesses incentives to locate in low-income areas, from fueling programs that aim to reducing school suspension rates to those that provide drug treatment and efforts to help ex-felons re-enter society.

“This is an opportunity to again reinforce that this neighborhood is growing, that it is becoming thriving, that it is a good place for businesses to locate here and that people are saying I’m betting on this community and I believe in this community,” said James Taylor, CEO of the John H. Boner Community Center, which lead the effort for the Promise Zone designation.

Other local organizations will work with the John H. Boner Community Center, including the city, United Way of Central Indiana and Near East Area Renewal.

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