Indiana lawmakers have repeatedly made it clear they won’t address teacher pay this legislative session, but the Republican supermajority has moved to tackle some of the other items on teachers’ list of demands.
Among the first bills filed this short session, which ends March 14, are those that would roll back previous decisions by lawmakers, making a now-required externship optional for teachers renewing their license and decoupling teacher evaluations from test scores.
And lawmakers are quickly moving forward a two-year hold harmless exemption, which would protect schools and teachers from negative consequences of low scores for the first two years of the state’s new standardized ILEARN exam.
Lawmakers filed more than 100 bills related to education since Jan. 6, though not all of them will be discussed or voted on. Here’s a look at some of the legislation that, if passed, could have a significant impact on schools and teachers:
The bill (HB 1001) would protect schools and teachers from low standardized test scores in 2019 and 2020. If passed, the two-year hold harmless exemption would stop schools’ state grades from dropping lower than in 2018 by allowing schools to continue using those test scores unless their results improve. It also allows 2019 or 2020 scores to be used in teacher evaluations only if they improve a teacher’s rating.
Earlier this month the House unanimously passed the bill, written by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger. It now goes to the Senate for consideration, where lawmakers already showed unanimous support for a nearly identical hold harmless bill (SB 2).
Some lawmakers also proposed bills that would only hold schools harmless for just one year, (HB 1356, SB 58, SB 221), but those are unlikely to gain traction. Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, filed a proposal (SB 441) to repeal Indiana’s current A-F grading system for schools and replace it with the state’s other grading system, which conforms to federal standards and places less weight on standardized test scores.
The House unanimously passed a bill (HB 1002) that removes the requirement that teacher evaluations be based significantly on students’ test scores. The bill, written by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, now goes to the Senate. If passed, schools could determine what weight, if any, to give test scores. Instead, evaluations could be based largely on principal observations.
The bill has seen bipartisan support and an endorsement from the Indiana State Teachers Association, but faced opposition from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The national think tank that has called on lawmakers to continue requiring an objective measure of student performance, which they say increases “validity.”
Other approaches included a bill (SB 59) filed by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, which would require test scores to account for no more than 5% of a teacher’s evaluation.
Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen, proposed a bill (HB 1003) that would make optional an unpaid externship currently required of teachers to renew their license. The bill, which was moved by the House education committee this week, would also task the Indiana Department of Education with streamlining the frequency and timing of required teacher trainings and allow the State Board of Education to grant waivers to some schools.
Lawmakers are also attempting to lessen the training requirements on teachers. A proposal (HB 1263) by Rep. Chris May, R-Bedford, would put local school districts in charge of determining what training their teachers require and would repeal the externship requirement. A bill (SB 266) from Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, would task the Department of Education with creating a report on teacher training requirements.
One bill would add a new requirement for first-time teachers license applicants: trauma training. Written by DeVon, the bill (HB 1283) passed through committee and will now be considered by the House.
Republican leadership made it clear that bills on teacher pay are unlikely to be heard this session because it’s not a budget-setting year and the governor’s task force is still putting together its recommendations. But some lawmakers still filed proposals.
Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, filed a bill (SB 354) to give $75 million from the state’s general fund to schools that experienced a decrease in funding or saw funding fall below the rate of inflation. Melton filed a bill (SB 413) that would allocate $100 million from the state’s general fund to schools for two years.
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, proposed (SB 306) reducing the state’s payment into teachers’ retirement fund, instead redirecting $100 million a year to schools. Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, filed a bill (SB 235) that would create a teacher salary grant using tax revenue from sports betting to reward districts that increase teacher pay by at least 2%.
A bill (HB 1158) proposed by Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, would raise the minimum salary for teachers to $50,000. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, proposed allowing districts to give teachers a pay increase if they earn a master’s or doctorate degree (HB 1296). A bill (SB 228) filed by Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, would assign a committee to study the creation of a statewide salary grid for teachers.
Virtual and charter schools
Multiple bills were filed to put restrictions on virtual and charter school authorizers — some of which were ideas State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick listed in her legislative priorities.
Melton filed a bill (SB 441) that would stop the creation of new charter schools and the expansion of private schools that accept vouchers for five years and limit virtual school enrollment — though this option is unlikely to find Republican support.
Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, proposed (SB 224) requiring virtual school authorizers to submit some sort of financial guarantee with the state, such as a surety bond, or face having its authority suspended. The bill comes as Indiana Virtual Schools and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy closed following an enrollment scandal, owing the state $40 million..
A bill (SB 431) filed by Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, would prohibit authorizers from approving a new charter school within five years of one of its schools closing. Taylor also filed a bill (SB 88) that would prohibit charter school organizers from entering contracts that benefit an employee or relative.
Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, would add a slew of requirements for charter schools (SB 390), including requiring at least half of the school’s board meetings be held within the boundaries of its district, mandating that schools obtain an independent audit and submit an annual report to the state’s education department, and asking for a study committee to research halting new charter schools.
A bill by Sen. Mike Bohacek (SB 18), R-Michiana Shores, would require virtual charter schools to accept students who have been expelled previously.
None have been heard yet.
Multiple bills aim to adjust how the state calculated schools’ graduation rate. One bill (HB 1305) filed by Rep. Christy Stutzman, R-Middlebury, would allow Amish students to drop out of high school, citing religious beliefs, without impacting the school’s rate. The bill passed through committee on Wednesday. Another bill (HB 1204) would prevent schools from being negatively impacted by students who graduate early.
A bill (SB 234) filed by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would establish a high school equivalency pilot program in four districts, which would allow students who have completed less than half of the required credits by their senior year to seek an equivalency diploma, or GED, instead. The bill, which has yet to be heard by committee, would also count those students as graduates for those school’s rates.
The Senate will also consider a bill (SB 195) filed by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, that would put together a cluster of classes to create a graduation pathway for high schoolers interested in electric, natural gas, communications, water, and wastewater utility industries.
Written by Rep. Jeffrey Thompson, R-Lizton, one bill (HB 1066) adds a minimum compensation required — $3,000 — for a school district to accept an employee’s student if they live outside of the district’s boundaries. An amendment passed by the committee would allow innovation schools to give enrollment preference to siblings of alumni or current students. The bill, which will be considered by the House, would also require public and private schools to provide a copy of student disciplinary records to other schools requesting the information.
Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, proposed a bill (HB 1171) that would end the required IREAD 3 exam, which students now have to pass in order to move on to fourth grade. In a different bill, (HB 1180), Rep. Christy Stutzman, R-Middlebury, took a different approach to streamlining testing for third graders, proposing that schools be allowed to administer IREAD 3 at the same time as ILEARN.