Who Is In Charge

Here are the 43 education bills still alive in the Indiana legislature

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The Indiana Senate’s approval of Senate Bill 91, which would void national Common Core standards that the state adopted in 2010, is probably the biggest education story of the legislative session so far.

But at the halfway point of the legislature’s 2014 “short” session (an off year between biennial budget-making odd years) that isn’t the only education story. In fact, despite some lawmaker predictions that this would not be a big year for education bills, there are quite a lot of education issues advancing to the legislature’s second half, when bills approved by the House and Senate are sent across the statehouse for consideration in the other chamber.

Chalkbeat will be tracking 43 education bills as they head to committees for consideration beginning next week. Here’s a look at them:

Data security

In a bit of a surprise this week, two of three bills dealing with the oversight of education data died in the House and Senate. One bill did make it through:

Early Education

Preschool is the big early education bill this session, but it’s not the only one related to early learning:

Vouchers

A bill that would have made ISTEP optional for private schools receiving publicly funded tuition vouchers was ultimately dropped, but one other voucher bill made it through:

  • Voucher special education. Senate Bill 282 would send extra special education funding to private schools when students in special education use vouchers to attend. It passed the Senate 31-16.

Charter schools

Six bills related to charter schools are still moving through the legislature. Among them:

  • Innovation schools. The most controversial charter school bill is House Bill 1321, which would allow Indianapolis Public Schools to forge unique partnerships with charter schools. Unions have opposed a provision that would allow the charter school groups to hire teachers separate from the IPS union contract even if they worked at an IPS school. The bill passed the House 54-37.
  • Charter school compacts. While House Bill 1321 applies just to IPS and allows charter school operators to run IPS schools, House Bill 1063 applies a similar concept to the entire state but has a more straightforward focus. It allows districts to trade building space or services to charter schools in return for the ability to count test scores from charter schools in the district averages. It passed the House 97-0.
  • Dropout recovery charter schools. Senate bill 159 would continue to fund dropout recovery charter schools, which mostly serve adults, separately from the K-12 funding formula. It lifts a restriction against opening new dropout recovery charter schools but also creates a new approval process for them. The bill passed the House 92-0. House Bill 1028, which requires a study of the schools, passed the Senate 49-0.
  • Charter school accountability. Senate Bill 205 limits charter school contracts to seven years and requires sponsors to close schools that don’t meet minimum standards. The bill also establishes a means for determining if schools stay in state takeover. It passed the Senate 48-0.
  • Charter school funding flexibility. Senate Bill 321 gives charter school operators new flexibility to share funds across multiple schools. It passed the Senate 35-13.
  • Athletic participation. House bill 1047 allows virtual charter school students to participate in sports at their local public school districts. In one of the the closest votes of the session, it passed the House 51-44.

School safety

Nine bills that address questions related to the health or safety of children include:

  • School bus cameras. Similar to red light cameras, House Bill 1042 would allow cameras placed on school buses to capture images of cars that violate traffic laws by passing school buses that are stopped with their lights flashing. It passed the House 71-21.
  • Expanded background checks. House Bill 1233 requires school employees receive an expanded background check every five years. It passed the House 93-0.
  • Bus out of service order. House Bill 1303 provides for additional notifications if a bus is ruled out of service during inspection.
  • Allergic reaction injections. Senate Bill 245 allows school districts to keep EpiPens and administer them if needed. It passed the Senate 49-0. House Bill 1323 has a similar goal for colleges. It passed the House 90-0.
  • School resource officers. Senate Bill 85 allow grants for law officers in schools to be used for training the officers and requires them to be employed by a law enforcement agency. It passed the Senate 47-1.
  • School bus driver physicals. Senate Bill 278 requires school bus drivers to undergo physical exams. It passed the Senate 40-8.
  • School safety division. Senate Bill 344 establishes a school building safety division within the Indiana Department of Education. It passed the Senate 48-0.
  • Immunity for health issues. House Bill 1204 gives school districts immunity for incidents that arise from student health conditions that were not previously disclosed to the district. It passed the House 96-0.
  • Student athlete health awareness. House Bill 1290 aims to educate coaches and others of the risks of sudden cardiac arrest for athletes. It passed the House 87-9.

Instruction

Several bills deal with what is taught in schools, when students can be excused, who teaches or how students are credentialed when they graduate. Among them:

  • Common Core. After it passed the Senate 36-12, Senate Bill 91, voiding Common Core standards, now heads to the House.
  • State fair absences. Two bills would allow excused absences from school for children participating in the state fair. House Bill 1056 passed 93-0 and Senate Bill 114 passed 28-21.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1181 makes career and technical centers eligible for state grants and special funds. It passed the House 92-0. House Bill 1064 creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana. It passed the House 94-0.
  • Career and technical diploma. House Bill 1213 creates a new career and technical diploma. It passed the House 92-0.
  • Cursive writing. For the third consecutive year, a bill passed the Senate requiring schools to teach cursive handwriting. Senate Bill 113 passed the Senate 39-9.
  • Veterans to teachers. Senate Bill 331 is designed to ease the transition from military service to teaching. It passed the Senate 46-0.
  • Teacher preparation program. Senate Bill 204 requires teacher education programs to submit data about their graduates to the Indiana Department of Education and establishes a rating system. It passed the Senate 48-0. A similar bill, House Bill 1388, passed the House 95-0.
  • High ability students. House Bill 1319 requires more reporting from schools about students who score in the high ability range on ISTEP. It passed the House 95-0.
  • Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 makes highly rated teachers who take jobs at D or F-rated traditional public or charter schools eligible for extra pay if the legislature approves money for stipends in next year’s budget. It passed the Senate 34-14.
  • Music curriculum. Senate Bill 276 requires schools to assure music is part of the curriculum, including ensembles. It passed the Senate 40-8.
  • Teacher contracts. Senate Bill 284 sets 14 days before the start of work as the deadline by which a teacher is bound by the contract they have signed with a school district and cannot sign another valid contract. It passed the Senate 48-0.
  • Winter holiday traditions. Aimed at protecting Christmas traditions, Senate Bill 326 permits schools to teach about winter holidays and use holiday symbols. It passed the Senate 48-0.

School funding

Five bills address questions of how schools are funded:

  • Tax cap fix. Property tax caps have begun causing budget shortfalls in some districts. House Bill 1062 and Senate Bill 143 together would give districts more flexibility to manage their debt and avoid those shortfalls. House Bill 1062 passed 94-0 while Senate Bill 143 passed 49-0.
  • School transfers. House Bill 1079 allows the siblings of a student who has transferred from one district to another to have preference for making the same transfer. It passed the House 97-0.
  • School referendum language. Senate Bill 207 makes changes to the ballot language schools use when they ask their communities to pass referendums for new tax money. It passed the Senate 49-0.
  • Complexity index. Senate Bill 363 makes changes to the way school poverty is calculated for some school districts. It passed the Senate 48-0.
  • Bond refunding. House Bill 1340 allows for bonds to be refunded when schools consolidate. It passed the House 94-0.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: