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Lawmakers begin the 2019 session in January.

Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat

Stacked education bill could see even more additions next week

The Senate Education Committee is expected to vote next week on a sweeping schools bill that could change how schools calculate graduation rates, expand services to some children with disabilities and impose new financial rules for charter schools.

A range of education issues already have been stuffed into Senate Bill 93. And today, that bill got even bigger as committee Chairmen Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said several smaller bills could be folded into it.

Already without any amendments, the bill would:

  • Establish guidelines for how charter schools should handle remaining funds or assets once a school closes;
  • Require that testmakers chosen to develop the ISTEP in the future  report student scores to the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1;
  • Require the Indiana Department of Education to post essay questions released after the yearly ISTEP exam and “exemplary” student answers on its website.
  • Allow school districts to provide busing to high school students who live outside the district in certain cases;
  • Change state law to include “developmental delay” as a disability category for students between the ages of 3 and 9. Currently, the law limits that category to students between the ages of 3 and 5. Developmental delay would also be a category under mild and moderate disabilities when figuring out special education grants.

Kruse said at the beginning of the session that the limited time frame to hear and pass bills meant he might try to amend some bills into others rather than have separate hearings for each one. Grouping bills together could also help some controversial bills advance farther than they would on their own.

The following bills, Kruse said today, could be added into Senate Bill 93 next week as amendments:

  • Religious instruction. Senate Bill 38, authored by Kruse, would let students in middle and high schools receive two academic credits for religious instruction if the school board passes a policy allowing it.
  • School district taxes. Senate Bill 359, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would establish penalties for school districts and charter schools that don’t pay certain taxes within 30 days of their due dates.
  • High school graduation rates. Senate Bill 360, authored by Raatz, would redefine how high school graduation rates are calculated so that freshmen pursuing a certificate of completion, a non-academic diploma alternative, wouldn’t count toward their school’s rate. Typically, these certificates are reserved for students with severe cognitive disabilities and only about 1 percent of Indiana students earn them.

Several other bills might be folded into Senate Bill 93 with a request to have legislators study the issues over the summer instead of implementing them right away. Among them are:

  • Teacher shortage. Senate Bill 379, authored by Sen. Peter Miller, R-Avon, would let special education, science, engineering, technology and math teachers  negotiate contracts directly with school districts instead of working through the teachers union that represents them. The bill would also create a residency program for teachers in an effort to make it easier for those coming from outside the state to become licensed.
  • Teacher residency. Senate Bill 382, authored by Kruse, would establish a “residency program” for new teachers, enabling them to earn a master’s degree more quickly and receive mentoring from veteran teachers along the way. The program would set aside part of the teacher’s salary to pay a mentor’s stipend.
  • Special education scholarship accounts. Senate Bill 397, authored by Raatz, is designed to allow parents to better control where federal and state aid for students in special education is spent. A state fund would be created to hold money that parents could direct to their child’s school or to an education service provider like a tutor. Parents who agree to use this fund would be  ineligible for tax-funded vouchers.

The legislature’s “short” 10-week session during this non-budget year since is scheduled to end March 14. Next week’s committee meeting is the last of the first half of the session. At that point, bills that have moved forward will be available for hearings in House committees.