Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

7 Things To Know About School Discipline And Civil Rights In Indiana

New data from the Department of Education provides a snapshot of civl rights in U.S. schools. Indiana schools use suspension more often than most of the nation's schools. (Eric Castro/Flickr)

New data from the Department of Education provides a snapshot of civl rights in U.S. schools. Indiana schools use suspension more often than most of the nation’s schools. (Eric Castro/Flickr)” credit=”

Every two years the U.S. Department of Education collects civil rights data on all public schools and school districts in the United States. This week the department released those numbers from the 2013-14 school year.

The Department of Education break down access and opportunities for students at every public school in country by gender, race and disability. Things like suspension, expulsion, absenteeism, juvenile justice facilities, officers in schools, restraint, seclusion, college readiness and more.

Much, much more.

That means it’s A LOT of data. So much, that downloading the spreadsheet would, for instance, use up this whole month’s cellular data plan.

So you don’t have to use up your data — and maybe crash your computer, like we did — we’re going through those numbers for you. Continue Reading

Indiana Schools Suspended More Than 75,000 Students in 2014

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are largely left out of efforts to address the overuse of suspension and expulsion for student groups, according to a new report. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Male students of color and students with disabilities absorb the brunt of Indiana’s 75,000 suspensions. (flakeparadigm/Flickr)

Indiana schools suspended more than 75,000 students during the 2013-14 school year, according to new federal data.

There’s a lot to dig through in numbers released this week from the U.S. Department of Education, but one thing jumps out: Indiana schools use suspension more often than most of the nation’s schools.

On average, U.S. schools send home about one in 16 students. Indiana schools choose exclusionary discipline more often, sending home one in 14 students.

Boys, students of color and students with disabilities absorb the brunt of Indiana’s 75,000 suspensions.

Schools suspend students with disabilities at twice the rate of their peers. And while black students make up about 12 percent of school enrollment, they make up 34 percent of total suspensions. Continue Reading

Draper: Expectations Have To Change Through The First Year

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Over the last year, we’ve followed three first year teachers – from their college graduation, through the first school year. Sara Draper taught at Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County. To conclude the series, she and the other two teachers reflect on their first year of teaching.

For Sara Draper, teaching second grade was a long, slow journey– she likens it to running a marathon.

“It starts out and you’re feeling really great when you first start running, then by the middle you’re doing ok, you get some water,” she said. “By the end you’re exhausted but you think you can still make it because there’s only a few weeks left, or a few miles left.”

And after the last day of school, Draper had mixed emotions.

Draper’s confidence went up and down all year, and her perspective changed. When she graduated college, she says her expectations were idealistic.

“Every lesson is going to be life changing and exciting and they’re all going to be excited about it, but that’s just not realistic,” Draper said. “That can’t happen every minute of every day. It’s not always exciting and that’s something I had to get used to.”

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Superintendent Pushes $150 Million Plan For Statewide Preschool

Representatives of the five counties chosen to participate in the pre-k pilot program met in Indianapolis yesterday to share ideas about implementing the program.

Indiana’s top education official says the state has money available to offer preschool in all Indiana districts. (Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)

INDIANAPOLIS — State Superintendent Glenda Ritz wants to see preschool available to all Indiana kids — and says it should be at the front of lawmakers’ minds as they enter the 2017 legislative session.

The $150 million proposal to expand preschool in every district in the state would be less than one percent of the state’s annual budget, Ritz said. She says it’s among the Department of Education’s top policy priorities heading into the next legislative session.

“The Department will make high quality pre-K available within the boundaries of every school corporation in the state of Indiana by 2020,” Ritz said. “The funds are there if the political will exists.”

Indiana is one of only 13 states who doesn’t require school attendance until age 7. According to IDOE, one in 14 first graders never attend kindergarten or preschool — starting school later than their peers.

Ritz says statewide preschool can remedy this. Her plan wouldn’t require preschool, but it would provide free access to any family that wants it, regardless of income.

“We absolutely have to invest with our little ones,” Ritz said. “I want it open to all students who might want to attend a high-quality pre-K program.”

Ritz said the multimillion dollar proposal could comprise of public-private partnerships paid for from existing state funds, federal grants and private contributions.

In response to Ritz’s plan, Gov. Mike Pence says the state should focus funds on students with certain income qualifications, not all students. Under the state’s existing preschool pilot program, families are only eligible if they have incomes up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level — about $31,000 for a family of four.

“When it comes to disadvantaged kids the benefits of opening doors of access to early childhood education is very significant,” Pence said. “And that’s where we’ll focus.”

Pence also said under any state-funded preschool program, students should be able to use those resources in public, private or faith-based preschool programs.

Ritz’s announcement comes days after Pence indicated that he’s interested in seeking federal funds to expand statewide preschool. Pence’s move was a reversal from a 2014 decision when he stopped the Indiana Department of Education from applying for an $80 million grant that would have established a similar system.

Ritz’s decision to lay out budget priorities seven months before the session begins is another unusual move in this election year.

“Regardless of the politics I plan to get this implemented,” Ritz said.

Ritz is up for re-election this November.

Fewer Students On Track For Indiana Scholarship

More than 800 accredited colleges and universities nationwide do not require students to submit standardized test scores to be considered for admission. (Photo Credit: James Martin/Flickr)

About 80 percent of Indiana’s incoming high school seniors aren’t meeting requirements for a state-funded scholarship. (James Martin/Flickr)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — About 80 percent of Indiana’s incoming high school seniors aren’t meeting requirements for a state-funded scholarship program created for low income students. This is the first group of incoming seniors who are face tougher qualification requirements for the state’s 21st Century Scholars program.

The legislature created the new requirements in 2011.  At the time, only about 10 percent of students who earned the scholarships were graduating college in four years.

Senate budget architect Luke Kenley helped craft the new requirements and says the state needs to ensure its scholars are as well-prepared as possible to finish college on-time.

“When you look at the requirements objectively, they don’t seem to be all that strenuous,” Kenley said. “And so I’m puzzled why the rates are kind of low – and I’m concerned, obviously.”

The new requirements include a graduation plan, a grade point average of at least 2.5, a career interest assessment and a visit to a college campus.

Sen. Kenley says reexamining the requirements might be in order during next year’s budget-writing session, but he adds that he doesn’t want to sacrifice their rigor.

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Hoffman: First Year Challenging, But A Success

Hoffman first year

Over the last year, we’ve followed three first year teachers from their college graduation and through their first school year. Gabe Hoffman taught at Nora Elementary School in Washington Township Schools in Indianapolis. To conclude series, Gabe and the other two teachers reflect on their first year of teaching.

On the last day of school, Gabe Hoffman told his third graders, the first class he ever had, that they’ll be the most memorable of his career.

“They’ll be a special group to me because they were the first group I had as a teacher,” he said. They also helped him execute a very important decision: proposing to his girlfriend.

But starting the year as a recent college graduate and ending it with a fiancé only covers some this years changes. Another change: the subject he was most confident teaching.

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As Enrollment Falls, A Rural Indiana District Scrambles To Stay Open

Like rural districts across Indiana, dropping enrollment in Argos Community Schools means less money for the district. As officials look toward the future, they're nervous about what comes next. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Like many rural districts across Indiana, dropping enrollment in Argos Community Schools means less money for the district. Argos’ 644 students all attend school in one building. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

ARGOS, Ind. — It’s the last day of school for Argos Community Schools and superintendent Michele Riise is busy — and running on only five hours of sleep.

“I don’t drink coffee, I drink Diet Coke,” Riise said, with a hearty laugh. “So I start with one every day in the morning. Right away.”

Today she set that caffeine to good use — she’s both superintendent and elementary school principal in Argos, a tiny district in the heart of rural Indiana.

Riise took on that dual role in September as a cost-saving measure.

“Most superintendents can’t say they know their kids and know them and their families,” Riise said. “I’ve had a lot of long hours and a lot of sweat and tears, but it’s been worth it.”

Now, with enrollment and funding dropping in rural districts across Indiana, Riise is left with another challenge: find money to school the students who remain.

Few Students, Few Dollars

The one-stoplight town an hour west of Ft. Wayne is surrounded by fields of corn, soybeans and other crops. Argos Community Schools employs about 80 staff. It’s the community’s largest employer, according to Riise.

There are only about 50 students in each grade, so everyone in the entire district attends school in the same building. The average Indiana district has about 2,700 students. Argos has 644.

And few students means fewer dollars to run the district. Continue Reading

After Turning It Down, Pence Again ‘Interested’ In Federal Money To Expand Pre-K

In this 2014 photo Gov. Mike Pence signs legislation creating a state-funded preschool pilot program. (Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

In this 2014 photo Gov. Mike Pence signs legislation creating a state-funded preschool pilot program. (Brandon Smith/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

In a move some are calling an “about-face,” Governor Mike Pence sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education Thursday requesting more information about federal dollars for a statewide pre-k program. In 2014, Pence stopped the Indiana Department of Education from applying for an $80 million grant that would have established a similar system.

In the letter, Pence asks for more information about a preschool funding program through the federal government created under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. He asks to be notified when the application is open.

“I am committed to opening the doors of opportunity to the most vulnerable children in our state,” Pence wrote in the letter.

The move comes after Pence’s last-minute 2014 decision by not to pursue the $80 million from the federal Preschool Development Grants program.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz criticized Pence’s move, calling it “political showboating.”

“Sadly, we have been here before with the Governor,” said Ritz, in a statement. “Over two years ago when the Governor ‘expressed interest’ in seeking pre-K funding, the Department spent hundreds of hours applying for $80 million in federal funding only to have the Governor change his mind and cancel the application at the last minute. “

“Our children deserve better,” she added.

Indiana was one of 16 states eligible for that money in 2014. His reason back then for not applying was he wanted the state’s recently launched pre-k pilot program to succeed before expanding it.

Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, says the letter could be a way to get positive press on this subject during an election year.

“What this does is help deblunt the fact that he turns down free money that is available to help fund programs in the state,” said Downs.

John Zody, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, blasted the letter from Pence in a statement.

“Mike Pence’s letter is not just political showboating in an election year, but it’s an attempt to pull one over on Hoosiers,” Zody said, “hoping they’ll forget his negligent decision to leave thousands of Hoosier children without an early start to their education.”

Pence spokesperson Matt Lloyd calls this criticism of Pence’s stance an attempt to “score political points.”

“Expanding early childhood education for disadvantaged children should not be a partisan issue,” said Lloyd, in a statement.

SBOE OKs Change In Authorizer For Troubled Gary Charter School

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy's high school campus in Gary.

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy\’s high school campus in Gary. (photo credit: Thea Bowman Leadership Academy)

Members of the Indiana board of education say leaders of Thea Bowman Academy followed all the state requirements to seek a new sponsor and were not “authorizer shopping” as they fought to stay open beyond this month.

The board voted Wednesday to approve an authorizer associated with a private university to be the new sponsor of the Gary school.

“We walked out with great joy,” tweeted Eve Gomez, a member of the the Drexel Foundation for Educational Excellence Inc., the body that holds Thea Bowman’s charter and oversees the two schools.

But until recently the future of Thea Bowman, one of the state’s oldest charter schools, seemed uncertain.

In January Ball State University declined to renew its sponsorship after 13 years because of ongoing failures by the school’s governing board, such as compliance issues with federal funding, disregarding open door law and creating a “climate of distrust and uncertainty” at the schools.

Ball State also raised concern with a slide in academics. In 2010 the two-school network was rated a C, in the past three years its been graded a D on the state’s A-F accountability scale. Around 1,300 students are enrolled in the elementary and high schools.

In the following months, all members of the Drexel Foundation board resigned and new members were appointed, including Gomez and former State Board of Education member Tony Walker.

The new board then sought a charter from the Indiana Charter School Board.

The board staff supported the application and recommended that the full board approve it. Instead,  ICSB members voted 5-2 to deny the request, citing concerns over the new governing board’s capacity to oversee the schools.

Last month Trine University’s EducationOne approved a new charter for Thea Bowman. The authorizer oversees four schools, not including Thea Bowman. Three schools have been closed.

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U.S. Rep Says Fewer Schools Should Offer Free Lunch To All Students

Rokita's legislation, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act, would restrict the number of schools able to provide free lunch to any and all students. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

U.S. Congressman Todd Rokita’s legislation, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act, would restrict the number of schools able to provide free lunch to any and all students. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — U.S. Congressman Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, argued the government should cut back on free school lunch programs when he attended Wednesday’s State Board of Education Meeting.

Rep. Rokita, former Indiana secretary of state, proposed federal legislation last month that would tighten eligibility for free school lunch programs across the country. He says funds saved from reducing the number of federal school-wide lunch programs could be used for breakfast or summer meal programs instead.

“I can do what I swore I would do … and that is not add to our national debt,” Rokita told board members.

A 2010 law allows a school to serve free lunches to all students if at least 40 percent of students participate in other government assistance programs, such as food stamps and medicaid. Supporters of the law say it cuts overhead costs, with the idea that it costs more to separately determine who qualifies for free- and reduced-lunch than it does to make lunch free for all students in these schools, regardless of income.

But Rokita says that means the program may be used by families who don’t need it.

“When did we get to a point in this country when families aren’t responsible for feeding their children?” Rokita said. “And instead the government is?”

Rokita’s legislation, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act, would restrict the number of schools able to provide free lunch to any and all students. It would move the qualification threshold from 40 percent in government assistance programs to 60 percent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure could save taxpayers around one billion dollars over the course of ten years.

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