Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Sara Wittmeyer

Sara Wittmeyer is the News Bureau Chief for WFIU and WTIU. Sara has more than a decade of experience as a news reporter and previously served with KBIA at the University of Missouri, WNKU at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY, and at WCPO News in Cincinnati.

Will Illinois Budget Woes Force College Students To Indiana?

The lack of a budget in Illinois means state universities are losing millions of dollars to operate, and could lead to tuition increases. Will this lead more Illinois students to enroll at Indiana schools?

Eastern Illinois University is one state university in Illinois dealing with huge budget shortfalls because of a loss of millions of dollars in state funding. The Illinois legislature and governor are at a stale mate passing a budget, meaning state funding is on hold. (photo credit: Harrison Wagner/WTIU News).

Illinois’ public colleges are in trouble and it could have an impact on higher education in Indiana. It’s more than halfway into the fiscal year and Illinois’ Republican governor and Democratic-controlled legislature are still deadlocked over the state budget.

The impasse means the state’s 12 public universities and 48 community colleges haven’t received a penny of state funding for nine months.

It’s a nerve-wracking time for students. They’re on the line for tuition because the state isn’t paying out money for grants and scholarships, making out of state tuition in Indiana more affordable than before.

Higher Education In Illinois Is In Trouble

Eastern Illinois Freshmen Kaitlyn Reposh and Jenny Cisneros find themselves in a difficult position.

“We all care about our school, and we don’t want it to close down,” says Cisneros.

They’re at home walking through campus, but in some ways feels like they’re standing by and watching it die by a thousand cuts.

“We’re not just here because we want to go to a college away from home. We actually want to be here.”

But that decision isn’t totally Cisneros’ to make.

Eastern Illinois is struggling. Lawmakers’ failure to pass a state budget this year means public universities have gotten no money.

At EIU that amounts to $40 million for operations and another $7-9 million for grants for low-income students.

Universities are dipping into their reserves and emergency funds to stay afloat, but as the impasse heads into its ninth month, the cuts are getting deeper and more noticeable.

“Even last night my friend was saying in her math class they always provided graph paper but the teacher was saying, ‘oh no, we don’t have the money for graph paper, we don’t have the money for this because of all the budget cuts and everything,'” Cisneros said.

Eastern laid off nearly 200 employees and is requiring others to take furlough days. The friends can’t help but feel anxious.

“I know all of my teachers have talked about it in every single class,” says Reposh. “And the teachers seem scared, and if you’re professors seem worried then it makes the students seem worried too.”

“Right now I’m trying to be optimistic about it but if it comes down to it where there’s really just not any hope then I’m definitely going to need to look at new schools,” says Cisneros.

Eastern’s president David Glassman declined our request for an interview, but in an effort to ease concerns and also to dispel rumors he penned a letter to students this week saying he expects the state appropriation soon and reiterated that the university is not closing.

Will Illinois Students Enroll In Indiana?

John Beacon, Indiana State University senior vice-president for enrollment marketing and communications, says there are a lot of places Illinois students can look if they want to transfer.

“If you’re a student at a school like that how confident are you going to be to continue there?” he says. “So there’s a natural tendency for some students to think about transferring elsewhere.”

Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue already draw a lot of Illinois students, but in some ways ISU is uniquely positioned. The campus is only about 40 miles from EIU and the towns are quite similar.

“Certainly the local students who go to Eastern Illinois University from those counties probably chose Eastern because of their location.” Beacon says. “Because we’re close to them, I would anticipate if there are students who are looking to transfer from Eastern they would look at us because we’re very similar in many ways.”

Indiana has seen a gradual increase this year in the number of students enrolling from Illinois, but the Indiana Commission for Higher Education says it’s too early to say whether that’s connected to Illinois’ budget impasse.

If students do increasingly keep transferring from Illinois there will be even less money flowing into schools in the form of tuition.

And as Eastern’s president wrote: “Without the state supporting public universities, the cost in tuition would become unaffordable for most Illinois citizens who would then leave Illinois to seek their higher education.”

The stalemate in Illinois isn’t expected to be over anytime soon.

WBEZ reported that Gov. Bruce Rauner gave lawmakers two options during his budget address last week: give him the power to make $4 billion in cuts or pass his reforms in exchange for a $35 billion budget.

Some politicos are speculating the governor and the legislature won’t come to terms until after the state’s primary election in March. Others think the political infighting will continue and there won’t be a budget this year.

That will be too late for some schools. Chicago State administrators told the General Assembly this week that in March the school will run out of money and be forced to close its doors.


GOP Schools Leader To Challenge Ritz In State Supt. Race

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick, the superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools. Courtesy: Yorktown Community Schools

A small town school official announced plans to challenge Democrat Glenda Ritz in her reelection bid for state superintendent in the 2016 general election.

Yorktown Community Schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has entered the superintendent’s race on the Republican side. If elected at the Republican party’s state convention in April, she would take on the incumbent Ritz, whose tenure thus far has been marked by political fights with Statehouse Republicans, including Governor Pence.

McCormick has been superintendent for six years in Yorktown — part of the Muncie Metropolitan area. Before that she was assistant superintendent and an elementary school principal in the district, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Speaking at the Statehouse, McCormick said she wouldn’t run a negative or politically motivated campaign, but says Ritz’s department has negatively impacted schools across the state.

“Indiana was once a leader in the nation — today we are not. Today we have a department of education that is disorganized and disconnected from schools,” McCormick says.

McCormick vowed to make the the state department of education a–quote–“great partner” and says she’d fix problems with the ISTEP while improving its credibility.

Indiana’s next superintendent will face a complex and ever-changing education policy landscape.
Lawmakers and educators are calling for the end to the annual standardized ISTEP exam; some would like to see a different type of student assessment used.

The recent reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act scales back the No Child Left Behind Act. The next state superintendent will oversee how Indiana adapts to a reduced federal role in its public schools.

It’s yet to be seen how McCormick will challenge Ritz.

Ritz, a former Indiana State Teachers Association board member, rode a grassroots campaign in 2012 to oust former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican, with 52 percent of the vote. The same year Republican Mike Pence was elected governor.

Bennett championed the adoption of the Common Core academic standards and other reforms such as teacher evaluations and state-takeover of chronically failing schools. Ritz said her win was a referendum on Bennett’s policies.

Political fighting and accusations between Ritz and Pence has become a hallmark of both their first terms.

In November 2013 Ritz accused Pence of “not seeking a power-grab, but rather a complete takeover” of state education policy. The reason? Pence formed a new education agency to support his appointees on the State Board of Education by executive order.

The two sparred over the length of the 2015 ISTEP. Pence criticized Ritz’s leadership during a press conference before the two found common ground on shortening a new version of the statewide math and English exam.

Then during last year’s legislative session, Republican lawmakers attempted to reduce Ritz’s education oversight through various bills.

Last June Ritz began a challenge against Pence in the 2016 gubernatorial election but bowed out two months later to focus on re-election as the state superintendent.

McCormick has an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and advance degrees from Ball State and Indiana State universities, according to Yorktown Schools. She is married to a teacher in the district and they have one child who attends school there.

About Yorktown Community Schools

McCormick’s Yorktown Community Schools corporation is made up of four schools with a total enrollment of 2,466 students this school year.

The district is rated A on the state’s A-F accountability scale. Last year 96.9 students graduated — the lowest rate in the district of the past four years.

Like most other schools across the state, Yorktown saw a major drop in the pass rate of the 2015 ISTEP — a decline of 22.4 percentage points to 62.3 percent.

District enrollment is majority white at 87.6 percent and 34 percent of student receive free or reduced price meals.

Teachers in the district were rated: effective, 64.4 percent; highly effective, 31.9 percent or not evaluated, 3.7 percent.. No teachers were rated ineffective or required improvement, according to the most recently available state data.

This report will be updated.

Seven Oaks Classical Charter School To Open In Monroe Co.

Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County could open by August.

Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County could open by August. (photo credit: Seven Oaks Classical School)

Seven Oaks Charter School could open in Monroe County this August.

Seven Oaks has been trying for four years to get approval for its school. The state charter boarddenied the school’s request in 2014 and last year the school withdrew its application after state board staff recommended denial. 

The board of trustees of Grace College and Theological Seminary voted to authorize the charter at its meeting Jan. 13.

Grace College currently authorizes two other charter schools in the state: Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne and Dugger Union Community School in Dugger.

The work begins now for Seven Oaks to find a building and staff.

In a press release announcing the charter’s approval, the board stressed that Seven Oaks will not teach with a religious slant event though it is authorized by a Christian college.

Continue Reading

Indiana Will Pay For Pre-K, But Questions About Cost & Quality Remain

A student looks through a book about fruit and flowers at Busy Bees Academy, a public preschool in Columbus, Ind.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

A student looks through a book about fruit and flowers at Busy Bees Academy, a publicly-funded preschool in Columbus.

Walk through the halls of Busy Bees Academy, a publicly-funded preschool in Columbus, and director Cathne Holliday says you’ll notice something different

“Everyone has a stake in each child’s education,” she says.

Teachers here are charged with preparing each of the school’s 115 4-year-olds for kindergarten.

“We’re also just giving them a foundation for learning,” says Holliday.

Indiana used to be one of 10 states that didn’t provide any state dollars for preschool — and public programs like Busy Bees were the exception, not the rule. But that’s about to change as Gov. Mike Pence is expected to sign legislation that creates a small-scale voucher-style pre-K program for low-income Hoosier kids. Continue Reading

Why Indiana Still Doesn't Fund Preschool Programs

Sara Wittmeyer / WFIU

A craft project created by Pre-K students at Penny Lane West School in Bloomington.

A bill poised for passage in the Indiana General Assembly would provide $80 million to fully fund all-day kindergarten programs, which many educators consider a step forward.

Preschool programs are another story.

Even as the Pew Center on the States reports other states have doubled their investment in Pre-K programs over the past decade, Indiana’s one of only 11 states that don’t provide families any money for preschool.

Educators say a “convergence” of research confirms preschool’s importance. But lawmakers say it’s not a question of importance — it’s a question of preschool’s cost. Continue Reading

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