From the Statehouse

24 education bills to watch as Indiana begins its 2016 legislative session

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lawmakers gathered Tuesday for Gov. Mike Pence's State of the State address.

While lawmakers are sprinting ahead with two major education bills they hope Gov. Mike Pence will sign into law this month, a total of 75 bills filed by lawmakers were assigned to House and Senate education committees by yesterday’s deadline.

That’s a lot, especially for a “short” session of the legislature, with no biennial budget to debate, in 2016.

But we’ve got the highlights below.

Two bills have quickly jumped ahead to full approval by the House or Senate: Senate Bill 200 and House Bill 1003 both aim to hold schools and teachers “harmless” for lower 2015 ISTEP scores. Both are scheduled for votes in the opposite houses next week with a goal of arriving on Pence’s desk by Jan. 19.

What will be the other big issues? Probably the next most high-profile move will be an effort to attract more teachers to the profession.

Bills were filed to start or expand mentoring programs, to increase teacher pay when they take additional education classes or take on on leadership roles and to ease licensing requirements for credentialed out-of-state teachers, among others.

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, both said they were reluctant to hear bills that come with new costs. That would require a special allocation outside of the state budget.

“I’ve been told we will not be moving bills (with new costs),” Behning said. “Education continues to be a priority, but I think we’re trying to do things this year where we’re not really getting involved as much into the minutiae of schools.”

Not all bills that are filed get a hearing. Behning, for instance said he did not plan to move a bill requiring cursive writing to be taught as part of handwriting forward for a hearing, effectively killing it. Here are some of the bills most likely to get hearings in committees:

A-F grades

  • 2015 A-F grades. Senate Bill 200, authored by Kruse, would block schools from receiving a lower 2015 A-F grade than they received in 2014. The bill passed the Senate 48-1 and is expected to pass the House later this week.
  • Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to reset the accountability clock for schools that convert to Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. Currently, schools with six consecutive years of F-grades can be taken over the state. In 2017, the timeline will be shortened to four years.

Testing

  • ISTEP rescore. House Bill 1395, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to hire an outside company to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test. If the scores change, the bill would allow the state to use the new results for calculating future student test score improvement for 2016 A-F school grades. The bill would also create a committee to review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system and see what changes could be made under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Replace ISTEP. House Bill 1114, authored by Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, would replace the state ISTEP test. The new test would include English, math, social studies and science and would likely test the same grades, Kersey said. The test would be administered by the Indiana Department of Education, not a company such as CTB/McGraw-Hill or Pearson. Behning didn’t say he wouldn’t hear the bill, but he said it was doubtful any effort “blow up” the state’s testing program would advance in his committee.

Charter schools

  • Charter school data. Senate Bill 9, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would remove the requirement that charter schools report certain information to the state, such as student enrollment, students’ names and addresses and what school a student transferred from.
  • Gary charter schools. House Bill 1115, authored by Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, would allow the mayor of Gary to authorize charter schools and create a Gary charter school board.

Teachers

  • Teacher licensing. House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would allow teachers with licenses from other states to be licensed if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject areas they teach, at least a 3.0 college grade point average and have passed Indiana’s teacher license subject tests. The bill would also allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district considers hard to fill.
  • Teacher career pathways. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also set out that teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” could still be eligible for salary raises.
  • Teacher salaries. Senate Bill 10, authored by Raatz, would allow teachers with fewer than 10 years experience to have their years worked count for more to determine their salaries. A teacher’s experience today cannot factor into more than a third of the salary calculation. The bill would allow experience to count for up to 58 percent of the calculation for those in their first decade of teaching.
  • Aspiring teachers. House Bill 1002, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would set up a system for aspiring teachers to get $7,500 per year towards four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. To be eligible, students would have to rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class.
  • Teacher bonuses and evaluation. House Bill 1003, authored by Behning, would ensure that teacher bonuses and evaluations are not negatively impacted by the transition to a new test in 2015. ISTEP scores and A-F grades may not be used in a teacher’s evaluation for that year.
  • Teacher grants. Senate Bill 328, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary,  would create grants for aspiring teachers who are studying subjects in high demand.
  • Teacher shortage. Senate Bill 379, authored by Sen. Peter Miller, R-Avon, would let teachers of special education, science, engineering, technology and math fields negotiate contracts outside and separate from the teachers union that represents them. It would also create a residency program for teachers and try to make it easier for those coming from outside the state to become licensed. Kruse said he has not decided whether to give it a hearing. The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is opposed to the bill.
  • Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would allow any teacher already teaching dual credit classes to get college credits in exchange for the number of classes they teach. For example, a teacher who teaches one dual credit course in U.S. History would be able to take one free class, or three credit hours, in that subject.
  • Teacher retention and recruitment. House Bill 1339, authored by Rep. Randy Truitt, R-Lafayette, includes some of the recommendations of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s teacher panel that met last summer. It would create a program designed to attract more teachers to the classroom and keep others from leaving the profession. The program would include mentoring and set a goal of having one National Board certified teacher in every public school classroom by 2035. Teachers who earn the rigorous credential could seek reimbursement for fees and receive an annual salary bonus of $1,000. Behning said the cost of some of the recommendations could keep it from getting a hearing.

Curriculum

  • Cursive writing. Senate Bill 73, by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would require every school district and accredited private school to teach cursive handwriting. Similar bills passed the Senate in recent years, but not the House. The Senate Education Committee passed this bill 6-4 today.
  • Ethnic history. Senate Bill 268, by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, would require high schools teach students the history of different racial and ethnic groups in U.S. History courses. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but was defeated in the House.
  • High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require public high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn any diploma the state offers. Currently, schools may offer whichever diplomas they choose. Some schools today do not offer a General Diploma, a less-rigorous course of study that some argue is be a better fit for some students, such as those with special needs.

Funding and administration

  • Title I funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, would require, among other things, the Indiana Department of Education, to make available to schools and districts the formula and data they use to calculate federal poverty aid. Behning said this will provide transparency around the issue, which received attention this year when the U.S. Department of Education said it would reveal how funds were allocated to charter schools, some of which reported in 2015 receiving much less than in prior years. 
  • Special education scholarship accounts. Senate Bill 397, authored by Raatz is designed to allow parents to better control where federal and state aid for students in special education is spent. A state fund would be created to hold money that parents could request be directed to their child’s school or other education service providers, such as tutors. Parents who agree to use this fund are ineligible for tax-funded vouchers.
  • Cost efficiency. House Bill 1045, authored by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Greensburg, would offer grants to help schools create cost savings, such as by establishing processes that reduce administrative work, remove duplication of services or lower building maintenance costs.
  • Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would allow school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. Kruse said a similar bill in 2007 did not pass.

Miscellaneous 

  • Technical corrections. Senate Bill 3, authored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, would make some technical adjustments, following up on changes enacted by last year’s massive Senate Bill 500.
  • Various education issues. Senate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so teachers could participate in a federal loan forgiveness program for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require than any contract the state makes with a company to create ISTEP would require the return of scores to the State Board of Education no later than July 1 after the test has been given. The bill also would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5.

Bills that likely won’t receive a hearing:

  • Standardized tests. House Bill 1030, authored by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Depauw, would not allow the Indiana Department of Education to require students in public schools to take standardized tests on a computer. Behning said he is “inclined not to hear” this bill because the logistical problems it could create would be a  “nightmare.”
  • Health education. Senate Bill 175, authored by Leising, would require that the state health and education departments to develop academic standards and curriculum on health education. A version of this bill did not pass in 2015, and Kruse said he doesn’t want to “rehash” a discussion not likely to succeed.
  • Mandatory kindergarten. Senate Bill 199, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, would require Indiana kids who are 5 years old by Aug. 1 be enrolled in kindergarten no later the fall term of that school year. Current law doesn’t require kids start school until they are 7 years old. Kruse said he probably won’t hear the bill because “the majority of our members would not want that.”
  • Expanding preschool. Neither Behning nor Kruse expect to hear similar bills that would expand the state’s preschool pilot program to include 13 counties selected as finalists by the state, but not part of the initial pilot — Senate Bill 203, from Rogers, and House Bill 1270 from Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie. Both lawmakers said they were holding off on passing bills that could cost money and still wanted to see how the five-year pilot plays out.
  • Expelled students. Senate Bill 262, authored by Taylor, would block student expulsions unless the student is enrolled in another school, alternative school or alternative education program.
  • ISTEP delay. Senate Bill 139, authored by Leising, would require a two-year delay of ISTEP scores as factors in school A-F grades and teacher evaluations. The bill was assigned to the Rules Committee, which Leising said means it won’t move forward.

showdown

McQueen’s deadline looms for Memphis and Nashville to share student info with charter schools — and no one is budging

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A request for student contact information from Green Dot Public Schools to help with enrollment efforts sparked a fight between the state and Shelby County Schools.

As Tennessee’s two largest school districts fought an order to share student information with charter schools, the state education commissioner set a deadline last week.

Candice McQueen told the superintendents of Shelby County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools they had to provide the data to charter schools that asked for it by Sept. 25 — or the state would “be forced to consider actions to enforce the law.”

But with just three days until the deadline, neither district has said it will budge. The consequences “will be determined Monday,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on Friday.

McQueen has not offered more information about what those consequences could be, though some lawmakers have worried it could mean funding cuts. There is some precedent for such a move: The Nashville district lost $3.4 million in state funding in 2012 when it refused to approve a controversial charter school, according to The Tennessean.

The clash comes after the Nashville and Memphis districts refused to turn over student contact information to charter networks, who argue that information is vital to their operation. Many Memphis schools, including those in the state-run school district, have been struggling with under-enrollment.

An amendment to an untested U.S. Department of Education rule suggests local districts can withhold information like phone numbers, addresses and email addresses — but a new state law requires Tennessee districts to hand it over to charter schools within 30 days.

The state department of education asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in. Last week, the attorney general said the districts had to turn the information over, but also that districts could take a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents about their right to opt out.

Shelby County Schools posted opt-out forms for parents on its website the next day, and gave parents until Oct. 22 to fill them out. The form allows parents to keep their information from charter schools specifically or from outside entities more broadly, including companies like yearbook providers, for example.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The school boards for the two districts have been in lockstep in defying the state’s order, with the Memphis board even offering to write a legal opinion if Nashville were to go to court over the issue.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his legal team is still reviewing the attorney general’s opinion.

“We still want to make sure parents know what their options are,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Tuesday. “When we [McQueen and I] talked, she understood that our opt-out forms were out there.”

Anna Shepherd, board chair for the Nashville district, said the board met with its attorney this week to discuss the issue but took no action.

“We have not had any further conversation with the state concerning the release of data for MNPS students,” Shepherd said by email. “I’m not anticipating any action [before Monday].”

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

what's public?

Private managers of public schools, charter leaders enjoy extra buffer from public-records laws

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO.

When Success Academy officials read the news last month that board chair Daniel Loeb had made a racially charged comment about a New York State senator, what did they do next?

Did Success CEO Eva Moskowitz frantically email confidantes about the incident? Did her team craft a new policy on board member conduct?

It turns out, we may never know.

That’s in part because emails sent by Moskowitz and other leaders of New York City’s largest charter network which oversees 46 public schools and 15,500 students are not subject to the same public-records laws as district school officials, such as Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Moskowitz and officials at other charter school networks are generally exempt from the law because they don’t work for individual schools or city agencies, both of which are required to hand over certain records to members of the public who request them. Instead, they are employed by nonprofit groups called charter management organizations, or CMOs, which aren’t covered by the state records law.

“Success Academy Charter Schools, Inc. (SACS) is a private nonprofit organization that provides services to charter schools, but it is not itself a charter school or a government agency under FOIL,” wrote Success Academy lawyer Robert Dunn in response to an appeal of a Chalkbeat request for Moskowitz’s emails under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, which the network had denied. “Thus, it is not in and of itself subject to FOIL or required to have an appeal process.”

In addition, Success officials said the emails would not need to be released because they qualify as internal communications that are exempt from the public-records law.

The city’s most prominent charter school networks — including KIPP and Uncommon — have similar CMO structures, which appears to shield their leaders from at least some FOIL requests. While “the KIPP NYC public charter schools themselves are subject to the New York Freedom of Information Law,” KIPP spokesperson Steve Mancini said in an email, the “CMOs are not.”

But some government-transparency advocates argue that the law is not so clear cut.

Because CMOs are so heavily involved in the operation of public schools, it could be argued that the vast majority of their records are kept on behalf of public schools and should be public, said Bob Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government and an expert on public-records laws.

Even though nonprofits aren’t covered by FOIL, he said, “Everything you do for an entity that is subject to FOIL — everything you prepare, transmit, and receive — falls within the scope of FOIL.”

Success Academy officials emphasized that the network does not categorically deny public-records requests involving its management organization. For instance, it may hand over CMO records related to the daily operation of its schools, the officials said. The network decides on a case-by-case basis which CMO records are public and which are not, they added.

“We follow the same policies as all other charter management organizations,” said Nicole Sizemore, a Success Academy spokeswoman.

Uncommon Schools spokeswoman Barbara Martinez said that their individual schools are subject to public-records requests and the nonprofit CMO releases budget information on its public tax forms.

“Uncommon Schools is a non-profit organization that follows all local, state and federal laws regarding disclosure,” she said in a statement.

However, because public-records laws mainly apply to government agencies and institutions, it is likely that some important communications related to charter schools — such as charter officials’ emails to real-estate companies, for example and detailed financial records related to their CMOs would be off limits to the public.

The issue of charter management transparency flared up in Connecticut a few years ago.

After the state accused a CMO of nepotism and financial mismanagement of its charter schools, the Hartford Courant requested CMO records under the state’s Freedom of Information law. The CMO refused to hand them over, saying, “We are not a public agency.”

In response, state lawmakers proposed a law to increase CMO transparency and subject them to public-records laws. After charter advocates decried the law as overly broad, lawmakers amended it and the law was passed. (A similar bill was recently introduced in the California legislature but did not pass.)

Similar scandals involving CMOs could happen elsewhere, said Wendy Lecker, an attorney at the Education Law Center. During the debate in Connecticut, she called for making all CMO records public.

“Something done on behalf of a school should be subject to transparency and Freedom of Information laws,” she said. “I don’t see why they’d want to shield the public from that.”

A large number of charter schools are run by charter management organizations. In 2015, about 55 percent of New York City charter schools were managed by CMOs, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The nonprofits help their schools hire, pay, and train staff; analyze data; and handle advertising and public relations, according to a report by the NAPCS. The report notes that these organizations are distinct from textbook companies or other vendors that schools contract with because CMOs “have considerable influence over the instructional design and operations of their affiliated charter schools.”

The nonprofit structure has enabled networks to open new schools more easily, including ones in multiple districts and states, said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

Even if New York’s public-records laws applied to CMOs, that would not guarantee that all their records would be accessible or easy to obtain.

New York City’s education department, for instance, is notorious for dragging its feet on FOIL requests. And some information is also exempt from the public-records law.

For instance, opinions or recommendations from within an agency or from outside consultants are exempt from public disclosure. Success’ lawyer argued that even if the network’s executives were subject to public information requests, Moskowitz’s emails to or about Loeb would fall under this “inter-agency” communication exception.

However, government agencies would still have to supply the requested emails, just with the exempted information redacted, said Allan Blutstein, the public-records advisor for the political opposition research group America Rising. Even redacted emails can provide a wealth of information, Blutstein said, since simply seeing when the emails were sent, who they were sent to, and how many were exchanged provides insights into how the organization responded.

“You may not get his or her personal opinion back and forth, but there’s value in knowing how soon they reacted, how soon they’re responding to other people,” Blutstein said. “You can make these types of inferences and learn a lot.”

In addition, institutions that are subject to FOIL must hand over more detailed budget information than nonprofits typically disclose, Blutstein said. While nonprofits are required to release general information, like how much they spend on supplies or training, public institutions must hand over almost every record, he said.