Future of Schools

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.

parent power

From Amazon to air conditioners, parent leaders quizzed de Blasio and Carranza at forum

PHOTO: Reema Amin/Chalkbeat
Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza host a forum for parents in Queens, the first of five stops across the city.

Deborah Alexander, a parent whose school district covers Long Island City, asked Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday night why the local Community Education Council wasn’t asked to be on a committee providing input on Amazon’s controversial move to the Queens neighborhood.

De Blasio agreed. “You’re right,” the mayor said,  “the CEC should be on the committee, so we’re going to put the CEC on that committee.”

Not every question received such a cut-and-dry answer at the mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza’s first “parent empowerment” listening tour event in Queens that drew about 200 local parents who were elected or appointed to certain boards and received invites. The pair faced a host of tough questions from parent leaders about problems including school overcrowding, the lack of air conditioners, lead in water, and busing.

By the end of the meeting, de Blasio told the audience that they should always get quick responses to their questions from the department and “that you can feel the impact of your involvement…that’s up to us to help that happen.”

He also called the listening tour “overdue,” and said that Carranza has told him the city needs to do more to reach out. Parents have often criticized city officials for not being plugged into the community.

Some questions needed more time to be answered. Bethany Thomas, co-president of the PTA at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, asked why the education department had not yet signed off on aspects of the school’s plan to have more than one principal. De Blasio asked Carranza to come up with an answer by next month.

Another parent said students at P.S. 62 were drinking from school water fountains that tested positive for lead last year, even though, according to the parent, the issue had not been addressed. De Blasio asked city officials to visit the school Thursday.

Other comments were even more complicated, often causing de Blasio and Carranza to rush parents along and condense comments to one specific issue. One Asian parent, who serves on a middle school’s PTA, gave an impassioned speech about feeling like “the enemy” after de Blasio announced a proposal in June to scrap the specialized high schools admissions test in order to diversify the schools. Currently 62 percent of specialized high school students are Asian.

“This was not about saying anyone is the bad guy,” de Blasio said, who has defended the plan as a way to bring more black and Hispanic students to those high schools.

Several parents asked why their schools still don’t have air conditioners. After de Blasio and Carranza said there is a plan to put air conditioners in every school by 2021, a mother with children at John Adams High School tearfully explained that her children will be out of school by then.

Carranza said he understood her problem, and the department would follow up, but that electrical wiring at each building makes it tough to solve the problem sooner than planned.

Alexander — the parent who asked about Amazon — questioned Carranza and de Blasio about how parent feedback would be used. She talked about the resolutions her Community Education Council passes that never get responses or feedback from the education department.

“We come, all of us, unpaid, away from our families, away from our jobs, away from bed times and dinners,” Alexander said. “We want to know what we’re doing is impactful, not a checked box.”

De Blasio said the city owes her “a process,” and department officials should respond in “real-time” — which could mean a couple of weeks. Carranza and de Blasio pledged to get a report of the meeting back to the parent leaders, noting how city leaders are following up with concerns.

elected school board

In Chicago, not everyone agrees with the grassroots call for an elected school board

PHOTO: Stephen J. Serio
Panelists at a Chalkbeat Chicago forum on the city's next mayor and public schools included, from left, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Daniel Anello, Jitu Brown, and Beth Swanson

Despite a growing call for an elected school board, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to Chicago’s troubled public school system.

Panelists at a Chalkbeat Chicago forum Wednesday evening split on whether an elected school board would offer more public accountability, especially given concerns that factions such as the teachers union would out-organize, and outspend, other candidates.

Daniel Anello, the CEO of school choice group Kids First, said he worried that an election determined by the size of campaign spending wouldn’t necessarily produce a board responsive to student and family needs.

“You need a school board that is representative of the communities we are talking about, but I worry if you take away accountability from the mayor, the mayor can absolve themselves of schools,” said Anello, noting his worries about big money entering a school board election. “My concern is that it is going to turn into a proxy war of ideology.”  

PHOTO: Stephen J. Serio
The crowd at the Chalkbeat Chicago Education for All event at Malcolm X College

The conversation was part of a larger discussion, hosted by Chalkbeat Chicago and sponsored by a new AT&T economic development initiative called Believe Chicago, about the next mayoral election and the future of city schools. Of the leading mayoral candidates who were invited, Lori Lightfoot and Paul Vallas attended.

The evening produced little agreement, except that school quality still differs dramatically by the address and race of students, and that the next mayor needs to be willing to have difficult, and even confrontational, conversations.

In addition to Anello, the panelists included Elizabeth Swanson, the vice president of strategy and programs at the Joyce Foundation and the former deputy chief of staff for education for outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel; community organizer Jitu Brown, who led the 2013 hunger strike that saved Dyett High School; and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a county commissioner and newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Brown, who is the national director for the community education group Journey for Justice, made an impassioned plea for an elected school board, calling it one of the few pathways for communities of color to regain any influence over an education system he argued wasn’t working for them.

“In order for us to hold a system that has never loved us accountable, we must have democracy, we must have decision-making authority around how these institutions function in our community,” Brown said. “Is this a silver bullet? No. But is it a necessary ingredient? Yes.”

Another burning question raised during the night:. Should homegrown schools chief Janice Jackson keep her job?

Brown praised Jackson as a talented teacher and strong principal in the black community before her ascent to the central office — but expressed deep concern that she’s unable to run the district “with her instincts and what she knows how to do.”

“I think her work is highly politicized,” Brown said. “National Teachers Academy was being closed over a land grab, and her position on that was not the right position. Parents had to go to state appellate court in order to get that victory. Situations like that give me pause.”

But Anello and Swanson answered with high praise for the work Jackson has done and strong endorsements for her continuing to run the show at the nation’s third-largest school district.

Anello touted Jackson as a down-to-earth and accessible schools chief.

“If you want to have a conversation with her just pick up the phone,” he said. “That is rare in a school leader. It would be a shame and an absolute mistake to tell her to step down when you have a unicorn.”

Swanson said Jackson’s on-the-ground experience in school communities helps her relate to and inspire educators and school leaders, and her experience managing the $5 billion Chicago Public Schools make her a strong candidate to keep the job, whoever occupies the mayor’s office next year.

“I think Janice is an incredible leader, really unique,” Swanson said.

Panelists also diverged on whether the new mayor should freeze charter school expansion in the city.

Garcia questioned whether the city’s more than 100 charter schools have lived up to their billing as laboratories to experiment with and improve education. Chicago, he said, has “been infected with charter mania,” and instead needs to pivot toward the importance of ensuring current schools are adequately funded.

Anello tried quelling the debate on charters vs. neighborhood schools, arguing that parents are agnostic about school type and more concerned about quality education and good schools for their children.

“I would start by listening to communities and families,” he said.