One of the few races all Hoosiers get to vote for this election is for superintendent of public instruction. The state superintendent runs the Department of Education and chairs the State Board of Education. In the first of a two-part series looking at the candidates in this race, we look at Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz.
When Glenda Ritz first ran for state superintendent in 2012, she was the underdog.
She faced Republican incumbent and school reform advocate Tony Bennett. He praised charter schools, supported the creation of the voucher program and new ways to hold teachers and schools accountable for low test scores.
His campaign outspent Ritz’s 5 to 1. But Ritz was an educator, and she had the support from the state’s teachers, a strong grassroots campaign. And on Election Day, she received more votes than any other candidate on the ballot, including Governor Pence.
Many who opposed the school reform strategies of Republican leaders saw Ritz as a solution. But the fact that she disagreed with the Pence administration – became a problem.
Conflict Plagued Ritz’s First Term
This manifested the most at the State Board of Education meetings.
“This is the part of these meetings that I hate,” former SBOE member Andrea Neal said at a particularly combative meeting. “It’s unnecessary tension, my stomach starts churning the night before.”
The boiling point came when Ritz abruptly ended a board meeting before the agenda was complete.
She later filed a lawsuit against board members for communicating with each other outside of meetings, via email, saying they violated proper meeting procedures.
Because of all this, education became one of the biggest political issues in the state. This included verbal sparring between Ritz and Pence.
“Yes there were politics going on, but I figured out really quickly that I don’t need anyone’s permission at the statehouse to serve children,” Ritz says. “And the politics is sometimes just the politics, and I have work to do.”
Of course, some of the conflict was rooted in Ritz’s outsider status. She is currently the only Democrat in a statewide elected position, and she opposed the brand of education reform republicans started rolling out under the Daniels administration.
But as state superintendent Ritz and her administration had to implement all of those changes, and it was sometimes a rocky transition.
For example, after Pence abruptly made the state leave Common Core, the State Board of Education and Department of Education had less than a year to write a new test.
Testing experts say that is too short of a timeline, and warned the state board it would be a long assessment. But when parents and teachers complained about the length, Pence blamed it solely on Ritz.
“Look I don’t want to make it personal, but the Department of Education is in charge of crafting the test and conducting the test in the state of Indiana,” Pence said a press conference after signing an executive order to shorten the 2015 test. “That is their responsibility.”
This political drama dominated most of Ritz’s first term. She even launched a short-lived campaign for governor last fall, to oppose Pence. Continue Reading →
The IN Region 4 Migrant Preschool Center, a free preschool for migrant children ages 2 to 5, teaches students in English and Spanish. The goal is to prepare migrant children for school, wherever it may be. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Depending on the season, Indiana farms employ between 2,000 and 20,000 migrant farm workers. When workers migrate, often their families do, too.
Children in this mobile lifestyle can face interrupted schooling, cultural and language barriers, and social isolation — factors that inhibit a child’s ability to do well in school.
A public preschool for migrant children in Vincennes, the IN Region 4 Migrant Preschool Center, works to combat that. The preschool teaches migrant children, ages 2 to 5, in English and Spanish. It aims to prepare them for future instruction, wherever they may go.
“We like to do all the basic preschool things with math skills, language skills, letters, numbers,” says Debbie Gries, migrant education coordinator for the Region 4 Indiana Migrant Regional Center. “But our end goal, when they’re five, is to have them ready for kindergarten.”
The sun hasn’t risen, but 4-year-old Ximena is full of energy.
It’s Monday, 6 a.m..
Clad in a pink hoodie, Ximena sprints back and forth in the trailer her mother, Anayeli Camacho, rents on farmland in Oaktown, Indiana.
Camacho is a member of a largely invisible population: the thousands of migrant farmworkers that plant, cultivate, pick and pack fruits, vegetables and nuts in Indiana each year. For a decade, Camacho has migrated between farms in Florida and Indiana, following work. Right now, she works picking pumpkins.
At 6:30 a.m., a knock.
Ximena’s bus to preschool sits rumbling, in the dark, on the gravel road outside. On board, a teacher buckles Ximena into a carseat. Continue Reading →
Latasha Marshall and her three daughters Deanna, Ashley and Janae are planning on moving from East Chicago after finding out their apartment is in the most lead-contaminated part of the city. The three girls will have to transfer schools mid school year. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
Latasha Marshall waits for a cab. She sits in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn, which serves as her living room this week. The Environmental Protection Agency put her up for the week so the agency can deep clean her home; it tested for high levels of lead.
“The other night when we first got here, I went to sleep and I woke up and I was at ease,” Marshall says. “I haven’t been sleeping like that at home.”
Once it’s clean, she can return with her daughters, ages 11, 16 and 17, but not to stay. Her housing complex sits on a superfund site, where the soil contains lead levels over 100 times higher than what the EPA says is safe. This is especially hard for Marshall, because this home was the first she could afford in several years. She moved here after living with relatives in Chicago, Illinois.
“It’s hurtful,” she says. “I wake up sometimes and am just like ‘man, what’s the next step, what are we going to do?’”
The cab arrives at the hotel to get Marshall, who doesn’t have a car. Her youngest daughter used to walk to Carrie Gosch Elementary School, which was right next to her apartment. The school the taxi takes her to is the new Carrie Gosh. It was an empty, former middle school a few months ago.
The old Carrie Gosch Elementary School building sits right next to the West Calumet housing complex, so it’s also on the Superfund site.
The Decision To Move Hundreds Of Students
One section of soil at the old building tested at dangerous lead levels. So superintendent Paige McNulty decided to move the hundreds of students to a former middle school located across town.
McNulty says she made this decision quickly, just nine days before school started, when she found out about the contamination.
“We made the decision on a Saturday and school started the following Monday,” McNulty says. “So we literally had about five days to move the school.”
And McNulty faced a bigger problem:
“It was a middle school, and the school we were moving was a pre-K through sixth grade so I had little, little-bittys moving to a middle school arena,” McNulty says.
In less than a week, contractors worked 18-hour days to lower water fountains and toilets, put the IT infrastructure back in the school and get the kitchen up to code. The district received a $3 million loan from the state this month to pay for these costs plus future construction to make the building an elementary school.
When Carrie Gosch Elementary decided to move into an old middle school, the district had to make adjustment to accommodate the younger students. Toilets, counters, and other structures within the school had to be lowered, but the district didn’t have enough time and money to get all of the work done before school started. (photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting).
McNulty is also trying to make the students feel safe at school. For example, Marshall’s sixth grade daughter, Ashley, had no idea what lead was until she heard it was under her home.
“I’m kind of like ‘what is that?’,” Ashley says. “Then they mentioned it was poison and of the ground and it’s been in there for over 40 years and they didn’t tell us.”
To help kids like Ashley, McNulty says they’re bringing the discussion into the classrooms.
“So the teachers got together and wrote lesson plans on water, air, lead, soil so that the kids feel like they’re getting some sort of education in their lives so it’s not a scary unknown thing,” McNulty says.
With Lead Contamination Comes A Logistical Nightmare
Now that students are settling in, and the district received the loan to address construction costs – McNulty is struggling with other logistical problems that come with moving the school to a new building.
“One of our biggest challenges is we were not anticipating busing all those students because those students had been walkers,” McNulty says. “Now we had to bus 450 kids to a school that we had not anticipated. We did not have enough bus drivers or buses, and we still don’t. We’re having to double and triple up routes.”
She’s also concerned about how fast her enrollment is dropping. So far this year, 200 students switched schools because of the lead, whether it was to attend another East Chicago school or because their family left the town because of the lead. This is harmful to the district as a whole, because the way school funding works in Indiana, the money follows the student. When students leave, the district loses money, and McNulty is watching her state funding dwindle.
“We get $7,200 person student so we’ve already lost about $1.5 million,” McNulty says.
Latasha Marshall and her daughter Janae get into a cab, paid for by the EPA, to pick up her other daughters from school. She doesn’t have a car, and her kids used to walk to school, so when the EPA put them up in a hotel, a cab was the only way to get the girls to and from school. ( photo credit: Claire McInerny/Indiana Public Broadcasting.)
To try and combat this, the district is offering to bus any kid who leaves East Chicago to attend school in neighboring towns back to their East Chicago school.
But leaving East Chicago and the school district – is exactly what Marshall is thinking about doing. She moved to East Chicago from inner city Chicago, Ill.
“I wanted to leave Chicago,” Marshall says. “I didn’t want to be there with all the violence and everything going on– kids are not safe. And that was my big issue so I wanted to bring them to a better environment, and apparently not.”
So now, Marshall is hoping her voucher from the The U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency to move covers the cost of moving back to Chicago, but to the suburbs this time.
Kendra Bowden and her son Wyatt, 3, on their porch. Wyatt has had cochlear implants for most of his life. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Public schools in Indiana serve about 2,400 students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Of those students a growing number now use cochlear implants, small medical devices that stimulate nerves in the inner ear and give a sense of hearing.
As technology develops, and cochlear implants become more common, many public schools are still working to catch up.
“I like to think that it’s not malicious, it’s just that most of these smaller districts don’t have the training and the knowledge to really be able to understand what these kids need,” says Ellyn McCall, family liaison at hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana.
As the number of students with cochlear implants grow, advocates like McCall say there’s often a disconnect between services schools offer and services these students need.
Brandy Hauser, of Spencer, IN, had never been more excited. She was a brand new mom. Like all Indiana parents since 1999, she watched as doctors took her newborn daughter Grace for a hearing screening.
Then a nurse came back.
“She [gave] me a little card and said that your daughter didn’t pass the infant hearing screening test,” Hasuer says.
Grace has mondini dysplasia, an inner ear malformation that results in profound deafness.
“After that it was like a whirlwind of ‘What do we do?,'” Hauser says.
For communication, the options can come from two schools of thought.
There’s the well-known route: use sign language. Or the newer option gaining popularity: cochlear implants and spoken language.
Hauser chose the second. At 18 months, Grace had an implant surgically attached to her skull.
“She was sitting in her little car seat stroller. We had her sitting up in there, and they turned her on. It was just like the shine of a Christmas light in her face when she, you know, clapped and she looked,” Hauser says. “It was the first time that I knew, ok, she looked. Ok, we’ve got this.”
Brandy Hauser plays with her cat on the porch of her Spencer, IN home. She says the rural location of her home has made getting services for her daughter difficult. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
But when Grace got to school, things became complicated. Hearing with cochlear implants is not traditional hearing. It takes time to ‘learn to hear.’
“When sentence writing started coming around, and the structure of sentences.. [It] was very hard for her to make a sentence that would be correct,” Hauser says.
Hauser says that’s largely because services from the school district weren’t geared for deaf kids who, through technology, were also learning to hear and speak.
Instead, the focus was American Sign Language, where grammar is different.
Students like Grace are already outliers in the state. She’s one of nine deaf or hard of hearing students in the Spencer-Ownens Community Schools district of 2,600 students. That’s one-third of one percent of the entire student body.
That’s typical for most Indiana school districts. Public districts, outside of the Indiana School for the Deaf, have eight deaf or hard of hearing students, on average.
Melissa Lancaster heads the organization that provides special education for Grace’s school district, Spencer-Owens Community schools.
“We look at what they’re needing and what services can we provide to meet that,” Lancaster says. “The only challenge is making sure that we’re up to speed on the cochlear implant and what’s needed with that.”
Challenges — and debates — around educating students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing are nothing new to Indiana. Indiana is home to the Indiana School for the Deaf — an institution that specializes in giving students who are deaf and hard of hearing an American Sign Language and English bilingual education.
It’s goal? Provide information regarding all communication opportunities to families, from American Sign Language to spoken language.
Naomi Horton, executive director of hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Deaf or hard of hearing students bring their districts about $8,000 each in extra state funding, but advocates say that amount doesn’t necessary cover expensive services that help students with cochlear implants, like therapy, closed-captioning and teacher microphone systems.
“That has to cover lot’s of things,” says Naomi Horton, executive director of hearing loss advocacy group Hear Indiana. “It’s not enough money in most cases to cover the special education costs.”
But there’s a catch. Under federal law, school districts are obligated to provide all students with a free and adequate education. In other words, they can’t say a necessary special education accommodation is beyond their budget. And she says, that can put cash-strapped schools in a tricky position.
Ellyn McCall, the family liason at Hear Indiana, says it makes a big difference when services are tailored for children with cochlear implants. She says it has made a big difference for her son Seth.
Ellyn McCall and her son Seth 8 at the Hear Indiana offices. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Today, Seth is 8 years old. He’s in a traditional classroom, and says he learns things like the definition of “busybody.”
“‘Busybody’ is when you’re being nosy and you’re listening to someone else’s conversation,” Seth says.
Because there is evidence that early services can mean big results for students like Seth in the long run, some parents don’t want to wait for their districts to provide them.
Kendra Bowden’s son Wyatt has cochlear implants. On his third birthday, Bowden says he still had the language skills of a child half his age.
Bowden lives in Terre Haute, but she decided to send Wyatt to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, a private school that specializes in educating children with cochlear implants. It’s in Indianapolis. An hour and a half away.
The Bowden family. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
“We didn’t want to actually send him because it’s far for us, it’s far for him it’s hard on him it’s hard on us, he’s our baby he’s never even been to daycare,” Bowden said. “But that school is only there for preschool.”
It’s almost seven hours total of driving there and back, to and from school each day. But Bowden hopes it will be worth it after preschool.
“I think it’s gonna be worth it in the long run,” Bowden said. “It’s not forever, it’s maybe a couple of years.”
Studies show getting children with cochlear implants specialized services early can be worth if for the state financially, too. The state can save over $200,000 per student that would otherwise go to state services, like special education and auditory rehabilitation.
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.
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.
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.
Fort Wayne Community Schools will spend about $10,000 on billboards this summer. District spokesperson Krista Stockman says state funding from a gain of two new students would pay for the billboards. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Forget Don Draper. Forget Peggy Olson. The newest era of advertising may live within your public school district.
Schools will start soon, but where you live doesn’t necessarily determine where you go to school anymore. Families can choose where to go to school — private, charter or public school. The aim behind providing this choice? Proponents say it will force all schools to better themselves.
Whether it has done that remains controversial. But it has given birth to a new reality for public schools: with education competition, comes the need for education marketing.
If Marnie Cooke had her way, you’d see school colors plastered throughout downtown Noblesville.
“I don’t know when the city of Noblesville is planning on changing over street signs,” said Cooke, Noblesville Schools communications director. “But I hope to put a bug in their ear that it might be cool to have some black and gold street signs.”
LaToya Tahirou stands behind her daughter Lamya Hale at their Carriage House East apartment. Lamya will enter the sixth grade at PLA @ 103 in August. She likes the school because “teachers are close to you, and they love you.” (Photo by Eric Weddle, WFYI)” credit=”
When Lamya Hale started at School 103 last August as a fifth grader, the experience began like others she toughened out at city schools.
Hale was bullied by other students. At 103, she says, it caused her to break down crying a few times a week during class. But then something different happened when a teacher stepped in.
“She taught me to just stay strong and not worry about anything else,” the 11-year old said recently. “That is what I like about that school. The teachers are close to you, and they love you.”
That interaction made Lamya’s mom, LaToya Tahirou, very happy. Even though School 103 was just a few blocks from their Carriage House East apartment on the Far Eastside, Tahirou hadn’t considered it until last year.
Unaware of the school’s past history, Tahirou was surprised by its strong pull to engage parents — not just get them in the door but make them feel like they had something at stake in the school’s success.
Tahirou says a high quality school is a vital piece to changing her neighborhood — one of the city’s most dangerous.
Right now, she says, people feel like they have one option to improve their lives — moving to a township or northward to the suburbs.
The Inside Out class at Indianapolis Re-entry Educational Facility meets. The class is part of an international program that brings college students and incarcerated people together to learn. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
INDIANAPOLIS — To get to the classroom inside Indianapolis Re-entry Educational Facility, IREF, you go through a metal detector, a set of locked doors and across a long, open yard.
Behind another set of doors, class is in session.
Sitting in a circle, students discuss their designs of an ideal facility that helps incarcerated people transition back into society. They’re working on their final project for this class, held behind bars, on the criminal justice system.
The class is part of the international Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, a program that brings college students and incarcerated people together with one goal: learning.
Here, half of the students are “inside students,” people incarcerated here at IREF. The other half are “outside students,” college students from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Together, they’re inside and out. Inside-Out.
“I’m the most talkative person in the class actually,” Dariek says, with a laugh.
Dariek’s currently incarcerated, but being released soon, so we aren’t using his last name.
“Man, this is best thing that has happened to me in the entire 18 years I have been incarcerated,” Dariek says. “I went to college in prison but I didn’t experience the college thing, like with the students.”
Dariek speaks to his Inside-Out classmates. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)
In the early 2000s, Indiana had one of the largest college degree programs for incarcerated adults, by percentage, in the nation. People inside Indiana prisons received about 1,000 degrees a year.
In 2010, much of that began to be phased out. A 2011 law restricted state funding for college programs.
“We had up to 400 college professors going into prisons everyday to teach college programs,” says John Nally, Indiana Department of Correction education director.
Nally says prison education now focuses primarily on job-training and GED programs.
“You know, we like to say we’re training Indiana’s future workforce,” he says.
But some worry this is turning Indiana prisons into “intellectual deserts.” Continue Reading →