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Crucial step taken in push to strip statewide vote on future Indiana schools chiefs

Lawmakers begin the 2019 session in January. Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat

After decades of failed attempts, the Indiana Senate voted on Tuesday to allow the governor to choose future state schools chiefs, upping the chance that the change will become law.

Senators approved House Bill 1005, which would make Indiana’s state superintendent an appointed, rather than elected, position. Supporters argue it will allow the governor and education department to work together and reduce the chance for big clashes — which have been frequent in the last several years. But critics worry it takes away an independent voice in Indiana education policy.

On Twitter, Gov. Eric Holcomb said he was pleased with the result, which has been a priority for his administration this year.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, attempted to have the Senate cancel its vote, arguing it violated rules that say the Senate is prohibited from voting on a bill once a similar version has been defeated — a reference to Senate Bill 179, which failed earlier this year. Lanane’s effort was unsuccessful, and the measure narrowly passed, 28-20.

The bill will likely head back to lawmakers for more discussion and a final compromise on the specifics of the plan before it can go to Holcomb to be signed into law.

For background, check out these Chalkbeat stories:

Here are the rest of the bills that passed the Senate today:

Charter school renewal and closure: House Bill 1382 would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal could benefit Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies.

High school graduation rate and student mobility: House Bill 1384 would require the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades.

But it was amended last week to change language that would have given schools two separate A-F grades. The bill now instructs the state board to consider student mobility in the existing A-F system, and “whether any high school should be rewarded for enrolling credit deficient students or penalized for transferring out credit deficient students.”

This bill, too, has implications for Indiana virtual schools. The schools have complained that they often accept students who are far behind their peers and are using the school as a last-ditch chance to graduate, and are unfairly penalized as a result.

The bill also includes two proposals regarding private schools and vouchers. One would allow schools to appeal D or F grades that prohibit them from accepting new voucher students. Another would allow schools to become accredited more quickly, and thus accept voucher students sooner.

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