Future of Schools

Senate budget draft favors wealthy districts, but has fewer cuts for poor schools

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo

The Indiana Senate’s proposed budget would boost funding for education overall, much like the draft from the House, but it attempts to do so while ensuring urban schools won’t be hit as hard because of declining enrollment, lawmakers said.

In the draft released today, Indianapolis Public Schools, slated to lose 6 percent in total state tuition aid by 2017 under the House’s version, would lose 4.2 percent in total aid in the Senate’s plan. That change is largely because of a shift in how the Senate proposes the state allocate extra money to students from low-income families who might start school academically behind their peers.

Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, said students would now qualify for the extra money, determined by a poverty calculation known as the complexity index, if they also qualify for welfare, food stamps or are in foster care. Under the House’s plan, students qualify if they come from families poor enough to receive free lunch.

Mishler said his method would be phased in over five years and give a little more money to schools than the House’s would. Urban schools seeing declining enrollment, like IPS, would still lose money, but not quite as much, and it would be spread over a longer period of time so they can better adjust.

Wealthier schools, such as those in Zionsville and Carmel, still gain funding because of their growing populations. Zionsville would see a 9.2 percent increase in total state aid, and Carmel would receive 9.5 percent.

“If you take the number that the House spent for the complexity index in the first year, I think we raise it about $30 million, and in the second year, about $50 million,” Mishler said. “So it’s fairly close in the total dollar amount, it just changes the way we distribute it a little bit.”

Wealthy schools in typically suburban areas have argued they deserve more funding to support their students because they often produce the state’s best test scores. But poorer schools, which tend to be in heavily urban or rural areas, say they need the extra funding to educate children from poor families who might start out behind.

Like in the House’s plan, all Marion County schools besides IPS see increases in total state aid by 2017, with Beech Grove gaining the most at 9.1 percent and Franklin Township coming in second at 7 percent.

Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he, like his fellow Republican legislators, focused the budget on education, proposing a $31.5 billion two-year budget with a $466 million increase in K-12 funding over that time. That means a 2.3 percent increase in 2016 and a 2.3 percent increase in 2017.

“Speaker Bosma ran his campaign on this being a year of education, the governor said this is the year of education,” Kenley said. “We kind of are drilling back down on that primarily, and most of the money we are spending is going in those areas.”

The Senate’s budget also increases the basic tuition amount for each student, or the “foundation level,”  to $4,943 in 2016 and $5,052 in 2017 — slightly less than what the House proposed. The House would up K-12 funding by $469 million from 2015 to 2017, with a basic aid amount of $4,984 in 2016 and $5,105 in 2017.

House budget leader Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said both budgets are very close in dollar amounts, and both houses have goals to serve both wealthy and poor schools, though they go about it in slightly different ways through the complexity index.

“I think we both have the same philosophical goals that we want to substantially increase the foundation,” Brown said. “And they do that, as well as our budget does that.”

The Senate draft also differs from the House and governor’s plan in that it includes no additional funding for charter schools. Kenley said it was too soon to make decisions about such a large sum of money. Charter school laws are too lax, and there’s no way to guarantee a school, for example, couldn’t collect that additional aid and then close the next year and take it for profit, he said.

“I think a summer study committee … is a way to get all this stuff straightened out and come back with a much better product,” Kenley said. “Because it’s going to cost money, and it could be big dollars.”

For the state’s ISTEP test, the Senate set aside $71.6 million over two years — higher than in the past, but less than what has been projected recently for proposals by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Indiana State Board of Education. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • $16.7 million per year for English and Math ISTEP tests in grades 3-10 (not ninth), social studies in grades five and seven, and science in grades 4, 6 and 10.
  • $3.35 million per year for the third-grade reading test, IREAD.
  • $3.75 million per year for the high school end of course exams in English 10 and Algebra 1.
  • An additional $12 million per year for tests districts can choose to use to measure student progress and practice ISTEP skills.

Kenley said the costs come straight from British-based testing company Pearson’s proposal to the state. Pearson was chosen last month to write next year’s ISTEP, replacing California-based CTB/Mcgraw-Hill. Kenley said this is a compromise between the state board, lawmakers and Ritz that gives schools the option of what kinds of practice exams they want to use to measure progress while also reducing cost.

“You’ve got to start somewhere to get this resolved,” Kenley said. “And I think it’s gotten to the point where the legislature is going to have to decide almost.”

But that doesn’t mean Kenley has abandoned plans to push for Senate Bill 566, now heavily amended but which originally called for the state to drop efforts to write a new ISTEP and use a test other states already use. The bill also encompasses ideas for upping teacher pay, which is why Kenley left a $200 teacher tax credit bill out of the budget as well.

“We thought the that the teacher tax credit was kind of a backhanded way supposedly of helping them,” Kenley said. “It would not really alleviate the problem in the long run.”

Other school funding changes the Senate’s budget proposal would make include:

  • $11 million is set aside for English language learners, which is about twice as much as in the current budget.
  • $40 million would be used for teacher performance grants, an increase of $10 million.
  • A $4,800 cap on vouchers for students in grades 1-8 is removed.
  • The bill would dissolve the state’s Education Roundtable, a group of leaders from state education, business, government and local communities.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.