Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Ed Dept. Calls For Background Checks, Trainings To Identify Sexual Predators

Currently, state law only requires that districts background check school personnel as they are being hired. The Indiana Department of Education wants to change that. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Currently, state law only requires that districts background check school personnel as they are being hired. The Indiana Department of Education wants to change that. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)” credit=”

The Indiana Department of Education wants schools to background check all staff, including volunteers and coaches, in hopes of addressing growing concerns over sexual misconduct in Indiana schools.

“The Department is expanding the services it provides to local schools and law enforcements,” said state superintendent Glenda Ritz, in a statement. “We will be working with the Legislature to strengthen Indiana’s law in the upcoming legislative session.”

The department’s plan wouldn’t require background checks for people beyond licensed educators, but it would provide a discounted rate for schools to get services from certain background check providers. The department says this would encourage schools to screen other adults that come in contact with children, too.

“As a lifelong educator, I know that keeping our children safe and healthy is a responsibility that our schools take very seriously,” said Ritz, in the statement.

Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, there’s an ongoing problem in Indiana: incidents of school staff sexually abusing or soliciting sex from children.

It’s an issue the Legislature has been studying all summer. It’s a story that’s been all over the news like this and this and this and this. A recent USA Today investigation gave Indiana an “F” rating on a national scorecard for how states screen teachers, citing holes in the state’s screening system.

Currently, state law only requires that districts background check fully licensed school personnel as they are being hired. Screening procedures for other people that come into contact with children, like volunteers and coaches, are left up to local districts.

Under the department’s plan, school personnel would also have the option of receiving enhanced training to identify behaviors of potential sexual predators. And the department would continue providing schools access to a state-run school safety training program.

Department of Education officials also say they will propose a change to state law that would streamline the process for revoking an educator’s license, after being convicted of a crime involving sexual misconduct.

State education officials want judges to be able to revoke an educator license upon convicting a person of a crime. Currently, revocations occur through a separate administrative hearing that happens after an educator is convicted of an offense.

At an August legislative study committee, department officials said prosecutors often neglect to notify the department when school staff are involved in sexual misconduct cases. That notification is required by law.

Choice Advocacy Group: 8,000 More Kids Could Use Vouchers

A little over a week ago, we published an analysis of Indiana’s voucher program and how it’s evolved over the last five years.

The program has grown since the 2011 General Assembly created it and former governor Mitch Daniels signed it into law. It grew because the qualifications for a charter changed dramatically.

As the criteria by which students can qualify for vouchers expanded, enrollment in the program grew exponentially.

Enrollment in Indiana's choice scholarship program.

Enrollment in Indiana’s choice scholarship program. (photo credit: Indiana Department of Education, 2016 Choice Scholarship Report)








When looking at enrollment in the program, it is also important to understand its capacity - how many private schools have open spots and can welcome students using a voucher to pay tuition.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored the original voucher program in 2011 and supported its expansions through the years. He said, when they first created the program, they saw capacity for 30,000 students to enroll.

With last years numbers, it seems we are close to that. Enrollment slowed from early, dramatic growth to a few thousand between the 2014-2015 school year. The 2015-2016 school year also makes us think we might be capping out.

But Drew Catt, director for State Research and Policy Analysis at EdChoice, a school choice advocacy group based in Indianapolis, says there is still room to grow.

During the 2013-2014 school year, his group surveyed private schools to see what their capacity for new students was.  The Indiana Non-Public Education Association contributed to the survey as well.

“We found, at the time, that there were enough empty seats to grow the program by [21,300],” Catt says.

He’s now recalculated this number to include new data and enrollment, and says there are around 8,500 open seats in private schools that could be used by a voucher. And he says this could even rise to 11,000, what he calls a “cautious estimate,” because of the addition of a few private schools around the state.

In 2013, the legislature adjusted the program so there is no cap on the number of vouchers awarded; meaning any student that qualifies for a scholarship and can enroll somewhere can receive a voucher.

Muncie Schools Struggling To Hire Enough Teachers

Over the last few years, Muncie Community Schools have struggled to maintain its budget after property tax caps and a new funding formula went into place. They will end transportation services in 2018 and are struggling to pay staff.

Over the last few years, Muncie Community Schools has struggled to maintain its budget after property tax caps and a new funding formula went into place. They will end transportation services in 2018 and are struggling to pay staff. (photo credit: Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana)

Some Indiana schools struggle to find enough teachers as the new school year begins.

Muncie Community Schools officials say the district lost 53 teachers, about 11 percent of its staff, between May and Aug. 9. The district will not rehire all of the positions, but it did hired back 13, and it is still looking for three guidance counselors.

In May, the district announced they would reduce 37 staff positions, which was a combination of retirements, resignations and layoffs.

At that time, superintendent Steven Baule told StateImpact the district lost around $29 million after property tax caps went into place in 2008 and the new school funding formula passed out of the legislature in 2015. Baule says both of these caused the district’s financial problems.

Last year, the school board voted to end bus transportation by 2018 because of a protected tax law that diverted the district’s funds away from transportation.

But money is not the only challenge.

More teachers are moving districts over the summer, more teachers are resigning within days of the start of school, and there’s a smaller pool of applicants.

Teachers have less incentive to stay in a district. A state law in 2012 tied teacher pay to performance evaluations, meaning that teachers would no longer get a pay increase for staying at a district another year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

The Road To Affordable Pre-K In Indiana

A student paints on an easel at Day Early Learning in Indianapolis. This preschool is run by Early Learning Indiana, which is advocating for state funded pre-k for low income families.

A student paints on an easel at Day Early Learning in Indianapolis. This preschool is run by Early Learning Indiana, which is advocating for state funded pre-k for low income families. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting) 

In the landscape of Indiana education politics, it’s rare to find a topic people on opposite political and ideological sides agree on. But over the last few years, one such topic has come forward: affordable pre-k.

Most of the people working toward this goal agree the state should offer funding to make that possible. But opinions diverge there, over how much funding and who should qualify.

Some believe every child in the state should attend pre-k on the state’s dime, others think we should focus on low-income families.

And this discussion is in the public spotlight now, with the upcoming election and the 2017 General Assembly determining a new two year budget.

Why make pre-k more affordable?

The reason everyone agrees pre-k should be a priority is because research shows kids who attend a high quality preschool do dramatically better in school later on than kids who do not.

A report published this month by the Brookings Institution studied the Head Start program. It found kids who attended the federally funded pre-k program were more likely to graduate from high school, attend college or complete some sort of post-secondary program.

In response to the number of these studies endorsing the importance of pre-k, 42 states and the District of Columbia established state funded programs to get more kids into pre-k classrooms.

For many years, Indiana was one of eight states without a state funded preschool program, which changed in 2014.

Pre-K Pilot Program Put Indiana On The Map

The 2014 General Assembly changed Indiana’s status as one of a handful of states without a state funded program. Governor Mike Pence championed the pilot program, called On My Way Pre-k, which gave scholarships to low income families in five counties in Indiana.


The National Institute for Early Education Research maps out how many four-year-olds are served under state programs across the country. When their 2015 Yearbook was published, Indiana had just launched the pilot program, and isn’t reflected in this map (photo credit: National Institute for Early Education Research, 2015 Yearbook).

The program enrolled 400 students in the first year, which is less than one percent of four-year-olds in the state. More than 1,000 students applied in these five counties alone, demonstrating a demand for the assistance. 

The counties included in the pilot program are Allen, Vanderburgh, Lake, Marion and Jackson. They were chosen to be representative of the state. Some are rural, some are urban, they are meant to represent a range and measure On My Way Pre-k’s ability to succeed in different communities across the state. Continue Reading

Charter School Funding And Approval In Indiana

A hallway in Seven Oaks Charter School. (Brad Davis/WFIU)

A hallway in Seven Oaks Charter School. (Brad Davis/WFIU)

Indiana has a national reputation for encouraging school choice.

Republican vice presidential pick Mike Pence has touted school choice as part of his education record. Certain ratings put the state as the biggest champion of school choice. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of choice and people know it.

It’s a simple idea. Proponents say choice gives families the ability to leave schools they’re unhappy with. Opponents say it destabilizes public education.

In Indiana’s version of school choice, students have the option to attend charter schools.

Charters are on the rise in Indiana — and this is sure to be a topic during the upcoming session — so we took another look at some key issues: funding, accountability, authorizers and discipline.

On our most recent Noon Edition we spoke with Michelle McKeown, the Indiana Charter School Board’s general counsel; Ashlyn Nelson, education policy expert from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Jenny Robinson, a parent advocate for public education.

What unfolds is an open, informed debate about charter schools, their benefits and their drawbacks. Listen here.

Panel Of Educators Plans For New Federal Standards

At Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said the state is seeking $4 million in damages from the state's former testing vendor. (Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled a panel of educators and state education experts to create a plan for accountability under new federal guidelines. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A panel of school leaders and state education experts met for the first time on Monday to map Indiana’s path to compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal government passed ESSA earlier this year, replacing No Child Left Behind.

ESSA requires states submit their plans to meet the new benchmarks. State superintendent Glenda Ritz assembled the 15-person panel to create recommendations for this plan.

It includes state goals for various education factors, including English language instruction, graduation rates, and student achievement on state tests.

Monday’s meeting focused on establishing goals for graduation rates and student achievement.

The group agreed on a 90 percent graduation rate. It used a federal calculation to establish a reasonable goal. In 2016, 87 percent of Indiana students graduated with a diploma.

“I consider this work to be honing in on how to have schools improve,” Ritz said. “So this helps us to really focus each school on where they are and where they need to go.”

The panel will decided its student achievement goal after the scores from the 2016 ISTEP+ are released.

It will meet three more times this year, and Ritz wants to submit the plan by March 2017.

Five Years Later, Indiana’s Voucher Program Functions Very Differently

Former governor Mitch Daniels (left) oversaw the creation of the state's voucher program. Under the program passed in 2011, students from low income families could receive a voucher and only if they attended a public school for two semesters. Governor Mike Pence advocated for an expansion of the program in 2013, and the General Assembly listened; nowadays, there are seven ways a student can qualify for a voucher and it's available to middle and upper middle class families.

Former governor Mitch Daniels (left) oversaw the creation of the state\’s voucher program. Under the program passed in 2011, students from low income families could receive a voucher and only if they attended a public school for two semesters. Governor Mike Pence advocated for an expansion of the program in 2013, and the General Assembly listened; nowadays, there are seven ways a student can qualify for a voucher and it\’s available to middle and upper middle class families. (photo credit: Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

It’s been five years since Indiana launched its school voucher program, which gives state money to to qualified students to cover private education. It was controversial when passed, and five years later, enrollment has grown exponentially, continuing the criticism.

Since Gov. Mike Pence joined the presidential race as Donald Trump’s running mate, the voucher program in Indiana is now in the national spotlight.

The program has also reached an interesting political point. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the program into law, and it expanded under Pence. Hoosiers will elect a new governor in November, and we don’t know yet how either candidate will address the program.

We wanted to take a look at how the program has evolved and how its outcomes look different than when it started five years ago.

The Birth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program

Back in 2011, former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels saw the passage of the voucher program as a huge victory.

“Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels said at the closing of the 2011 session.

It was the year of huge education reforms in Indiana: the legislature created the state’s A-F system, teacher evaluations were now required and based on student performance, and the voucher program was born.

The program passed in 2011 was based on the classic view of school choice supporters: all students should have access to all educational opportunities – money should not be a barrier.

And back then, a low-income student could get a voucher in two ways: one, if they were already receiving some sort of scholarship from an approved private organization. Two, if they attended a public school for one full school year and wanted to transfer.

In that first year, 7,500 vouchers were available.

“If they tried the public school and believe they are not serving their child well, they will not be forced to continue in those schools just because they don’t have a high enough income,” Daniels said.

And this was controversial from the start because of money. In Indiana public schools, the money follows the student. So if a lot of students use vouchers and go to private schools, the public schools lose money from that child.

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

The Program Expands Under Pence, Enrolling Tens of Thousands Of Students

Voucher Growth in Indiana Since 2011Areas highlighted in red show a higher concentration of school voucher use in Indiana. Blue shows lower use.


Five years later, the program enrolls around 3 percent of the student population. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, wrote part of the founding school voucher legislation.

“I guess I look at 33,000 out of 1.1 million students, that’s still a very small percentage in terms of overall choice,” he said.

Critics say this can still hurt districts. For example, 4,500 students living in the Fort Wayne Community School district went to private schools last year.

Once Gov. Mike Pence took office in 2013, the program experienced a dramatic change, putting enrollment in the tens of thousands. In his first State of the State address after being elected, Pence praised the program and encouraged the legislature to expand it.

“Indiana has given parents who previously had few choices the ability to choose the public or private school that best meets the needs of their family,” Pence said.

Three major changes came out of this expansion in 2013.

The first was the financial requirement to get a voucher changed. When the program was first past, a student could receive a voucher if their family income was at 100% of the free-reduced lunch eligibility, around $45,000 a year for a family of four. These students got 90 percent of their private school tuition paid with a voucher.

After the 2013 legislation, the state was now offering a 50 percent scholarship to students from more middle and upper middle class families. The new income requirements now allowed families at the 150 and 200 percent FRL level ($67,000 and $90,000 a year for a family of four, respectively) to get half of their private school tuition paid by the state.

The second major change in 2013 was to the ways a student qualified for a voucher. Previously, a student had to go to a public school for a year or received a scholarship from a specific organization.

Now, they could get a voucher if an older sibling received one, if their assigned public school received an “F” on the state’s accountability system, if they were a special education student or previously received a voucher.

And the third change was the legislature said there was no limit as to how many vouchers the state could give out. If a student qualified, they received the money.

Questions Around The Financial Impact Of Indiana’s Vouchers

Molly Stewart is a research associate at Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, and has spent more than a year preparing a report on voucher programs across the United States.

“Mainly we are looking at where is the source of voucher money and where is it going to?” Stewart said.

She questions the money middle class families receive under the 50 percent voucher. She says it’s possible that some of these families would have sent their kids to private schools regardless. But now they qualify for vouchers, so the state is paying for it.

“That to me is money the state is now spending on private education that it was not previously spending on public education,” Stewart said.

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million. But Behning says the program saves the state money overall. Here’s his reasoning: when a child goes to private school, the state covers half or 90 percent of the tuition- depending on the family’s income.

But when the child goes to public school, the state covers instruction costs plus transportation, construction and infrastructure costs.

“There’s no way you can say it won’t cost more,” he said.

Which is true, less money is allocated to a voucher student than a public school student. But Stewart says it’s more complicated.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

The one thing data does support – enrollment in the program is leveling off. Everyone says this is because available space from private schools is dwindling.

How Summer Camp Helps Latino Teens Find Cultural Identity, Boost Mental Health

Campers at Latino Youth Summit work on life-sized self-portraits. The camp , designed for Latino teenagers, was developed to help teenagers navigate their identities and mental health. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Campers at Latino Youth Summit draw life-sized self-portraits. The camp for Latino teenagers helps teenagers navigate their identities and mental health. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

As teenagers struggle to establish a sense of self, there’s an added factor for many Latino teens: straddling two cultural identities.

“They also experience prejudice and discrimination,” said Silvia Bigatti, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at IUPUI. “So that contributes to wondering ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this culture?’ and ‘Where do I fit in this family?’”

This summer, a group of researchers have been trying to help Latino teens battle depression and answer those questions at a one-of-a-kind summer camp.

Latino high school students have a 24 percent higher rate of depression and 65 percent higher rate of suicide attempts compared to their white peers. At the same time, nationally, Latino students are less likely to receive help for mental health problems.

The camp, known as Latino Youth Summit, wants to address this void.

Two Sets Of Cultural Expectations

Jennifer Santana came to the camp during its first session two years ago. Santana’s mom asked her to accompany her little sister, who was struggling with low self-esteem.

Santana didn’t think she’d get anything out of it, but some of the messages she heard stuck with her.

“It’s not what anybody else says about me, it’s not what anybody else thinks of me or what people think about Latinos in general,” Santana said. “As long as I know who I am, I think I’m good.”

This year, Santana graduated high school and returned to the camp to be a mentor to younger students.

Jennifer Santana, center, a counselor at Latino Youth Summit participates in a game with campers and fellow staff. Santana was once a camper who says she benefited from the camp. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Jennifer Santana, center, a counselor at Latino Youth Summit participates in a game with campers and fellow staff. Santana was once a camper who says she benefited from the camp. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Staff like Santana help teens establish that sense of self-identity. Researchers say that the strain of straddling two cultures can lead to more mental health issues.

At home, students ascribe to one set of cultural expectations. At school or with friends, there are separate cultural norms.

According to researcher Bigatti, approximately 35,000 to 39,000 Latino teens live in Marion County. She estimates about 12,000 or almost one in three teens are depressed, and 8,000 or one in five have had suicidal thoughts.

Although the camp aims to help address these mental health issues, there’s no therapy or traditional mental health interventions. Instead, Bigatti said, the camp focuses on creating a strong self-identify through creative outlets.

Channeling Identity Into Art

In the morning session of the camp, teens discuss issues like growing up in two cultures and it’s challenges. In the afternoon, teens participate in music, dance, yoga and art workshops. They’re activities to help the kids talk about self-identity in a creative way.

“What they do is they sit down around the table and talk about the theme of the day and then they do a collage, where they talk about who they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said.

A camper at Latino Youth Summit works on a self portrait. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

A camper at Latino Youth Summit works on a self portrait. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

One project the teens work on is a life-size portrait where they depict a version of the person they want to be in the future.

“Some are dressed as soccer player, some are wearing a suit, some are an astronaut, whatever they want to be when they grow up,” Bigatti said. “As they’re doing it, they’re talking about it and problem solving and saying ‘Sure, I want to be an astronaut but it’s not just going to happen, what do I have to do to get there?’”

And these tactics are working.

In the three years since the camp started, surveys administered by researchers find teens who participate in the camp report having higher self-esteem and the ability to address negative aspects of life months after camp ends.

Helping teens improve their confidence and giving them tools to deal with challenges is important for all aspects of a teenager’s life, especially school.

Campers at Latino Youth Summit. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Campers at Latino Youth Summit. (Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

‘Latinos Are Important, Hispanics Are Important’

For Santana, she knows she has to pay for college, but rather than looking at that as a barrier to pursuing a degree, she was able to make an attainable plan.

“I chose pharmacy technician as a stepping stone, so I’m going to get my certification,” Santana said. “While I’m working at a pharmacy technician, because it’s one year, I’m going to be studying to do double major for photography and business administration.”

She wants to open a coffee shop while practicing photography. And as she heads into this next phase of life, she feels the camp has prepared her for the challenges and tough challenges ahead.

“I learned here that Latinos are important, Hispanics are important,” Santana said. “So, as far as school comes and adulthood and everything after high school, I feel like I have a voice just like everyone else.”

IPS Restructure Plan: New K-8 and 7-8 Schools, John Marshall Converts To Middle Grades

IPS administrators have proposed expanding James Whitcomb Riley School 43 from a K-6 to a K-8 school. (Indianapolis Public Schools)

IPS administrators have proposed expanding James Whitcomb Riley School 43 from a K-6 to a K-8 school. (Indianapolis Public Schools)

A plan by Indianapolis Public Schools administration to separate middle school grades from high schools could lead to the creation of two new schools and convert the long-struggling John Marshall High School into a stand-alone middle school.

The proposal sets a fall 2017 deadline to decide which district high schools to close because of dwindling enrollment. As recently as last week, IPS officials suggested some schools could be shuttered at end of the current school year.

Instead Superintendent Lewis Ferebee envisions quickly expanding four current K-6 elementary schools up to eighth grade, creating one new 7-8 school and one new K-8 school, in addition to converting John Marshall into a 7-8 school.

Students headed to grades 9-12 at John Marshall for the 2017-18 school year would be relocated to Arlington Community High School. Arlington middle school students would attend the new John Marshall Middle School. Continue Reading

Education Department Requests Additonal $600 Million From Legislature

State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz updated her legislative agenda Tuesday for the 2016 General Assembly. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

The Indiana Department of Education has asked for a $600 million increase in funding from the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year. Officials say the funds are necessary to expand state-funded pre-k for all kids, increase tuition support for all schools and bump up funding for small, rural schools.

The 2017 General Assembly, which convenes in January, will craft a two-year budget. Typically, money allocated for education is over half of the state’s budget.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated statewide pre-K as part of her re-election campaign. Earlier this summer, Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal state funded pre-k in the state as part of the Democratic platform.

Currently, the state pilots a program that gives pre-k scholarships to a limited number of low-income families in five counties. Friday, a group of business and philanthropy leaders as well as Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, publicly asked the legislature to fund pre-k for all low-income families in the state.

The price tag for the DOE’s universal pre-k program is $147 the first year, according to the department. Ritz and Gregg have expressed confidence that the funds are available in the budget.

Another part of the DOE’s budget request focuses on increasing financial assistance to Indiana’s small schools. Statewide, enrollment has decreased in smaller school districts. The state’s current funding closely ties school funding to enrollment, so enrollment drops mean these rural schools receive less money.

“We need to invest in our small schools,” said Ritz, in a statement. “Indiana is a state of communities, and our schools are the heart of many of our smaller communities.  I travel throughout Indiana two to three days a week, and I constantly see small schools, especially in rural communities, struggling to maintain their educational programing.”

The department also wants to expand a tax deduction that is currently only available for families with students in private schools. Currently, parents of private school students are eligible for a tax credit to help offset the cost of textbooks.

Instead Ritz wants a $1,000 tax deduction for all families to help offset the costs of textbooks.

“The parents of children in private schools have received this tax deduction for years,” said Ritz, in a statement. “It is time for middle class Hoosiers to get a tax break as well.”

The 2017 General Assembly convenes in January and will create a budget for the next two years.

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