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Referendum Transparency, Teacher Training: A Look At Some Of Indiana's New Education Laws

Much of the attention as the Indiana General Assembly wrapped up regular business this session was on the budget, as lawmakers approved a nearly $2 billion increase in K-12 education funding.

Much of the attention as the Indiana General Assembly wrapped up regular business this session was on the budget, as lawmakers approved a nearly $2 billion increase in K-12 education funding. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Indiana lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session with huge amounts of new money for schools and a controversial expansion of school choice, but several other education policy changes have been signed into law that aren't related to the budget.

Here are some of the highlights. 

Students with disabilities got some attention from lawmakers, with the General Assembly passing House Enrolled Act 1313, to connect them with more job opportunities. Under the law, the Department of Workforce Development is in charge of tracking down former students with disabilities and providing them with information about job services, apprenticeships, and other training or education opportunities. 

Middle schoolers will also be required to start taking a one-semester civics education class under House Enrolled Act 1384. Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) who sponsored the bill says it's critical to get kids interested and engaged in civics earlier than high school, and students in middle school would have to take the course some time before getting to ninth grade. That goes into effect starting with students in 6th grade during the 2023-2024 school year. 

Some teachers are frustrated by some of the educator-oriented bills now signed into law.

Senate Enrolled Act 205 opens a new avenue for teacher training – including through an all online program. It received mixed reviews among lawmakers, with Democrat Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) calling it "disturbing." 

Unions are particularly upset with Senate Enrolled Act 251, which tightens rules for teacher union membership. Teachers now have to opt in to their membership and confirm with the district every year that they want their dues taken out of their paychecks. Part of the opt in process includes notice from the schools that teachers aren't required to become or remain members of the union.

Lawmakers approved legislation to ensure transparency with the school funding referendum process as well. Senate Enrolled Act 55 requires that school leader contracts don't include bonuses for winning the support of voters on school referendum proposals. It also says schools have to create a revenue spending plan for any potential referendum-approved funding, and that school officials have to include the plan in public hearings and state audits of their budget. 

Despite a pending lawsuit, lawmakers also passed Senate Enrolled Act 358 – a measure fine-tuning the state's controversial $1 building law, and expanding the right to buy vacated buildings to state higher education institutions. Part of the changes made in the legislation also mean if a school violates the law, any profits from a potential building sale would be split among local charter schools, or put into a state fund for charter schools across Indiana. 

State processes will also undergo significant changes after this legislative session.

One of the most substantial is House Enrolled Act 1514, which nixes state consequences for academically failing schools. Indiana took over a handful of schools earlier this decade after a federal and state push toward more interventions, and at least one former policymaker says the move this year is a big change in direction.

Lawmakers also want to know more about charter school funding, and additional information about school efficiency. 

Senate Enrolled Act 413 requires a state panel of lawmakers and school financial experts to look at how school corporations can improve building use to make more money available for teacher salaries and charter school funding. The panel will file a report and recommendations to state officials by the end of 2022. 

Meanwhile, House Enrolled Act 1266 prompts a request for information from the Indiana Department of Education, also aiming to improve efficiency among school operations. The legislation started out focusing primarily on transportation, but crossed the legislative finish line as a much broader bill to examine opportunities for efficiency in all non-instruction areas of school services. It's one aspect of Governor Holcomb's Teacher Compensation Commission report, which included recommendations for schools to streamline their spending to free up more money for educators. 

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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