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.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

Share your thoughts on Boasberg’s exit here: