From the statehouse

Here are 14 education bills that survived Indiana’s legislative session and 3 that didn’t

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Mike Pence is on the shortlist to be Trump's VP choice.

Indiana’s 2016 legislative session ended much as it began: With major education policy bills flying ahead on testing and teaching.

Gov. Mike Pence said he considered the session, start to finish, a success for the state, noting the strong support from lawmakers for bills like one that holds teachers and schools harmless from the consequences of dramatic drops in ISTEP scores after the test was reconfigured last year. Pence also praised another bill that aims to gets rid of the test altogether after 2017.

“We took decisive steps early in this session to ensure that as we raised standards and introduced a new test that the teacher bonuses and compensation would not be affected and that our schools would be treated fairly,” Pence said. “It (is) time for us to take a step back from ISTEP and think about new ways and a new system of accountability that could earn the confidence of parents and teachers, and we’ve taken a decisive step in this session to repeal and replace ISTEP.”

Not everyone was so happy. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz doesn’t think the legislature — especially its Republican majority — did enough for schools and teachers.

“Bipartisan common sense did not last long in the Statehouse,” Ritz said. “The legislature failed to take action to address Indiana’s teacher shortage in a comprehensive or substantial way.”

Ritz said none of the recommendations she and a panel of 49 educators formed this past summer were included in any bills that passed. She plans to move ahead with the suggestions that don’t require approval or funding from the Indiana General Assembly and push for the others to return next year.

“This legislative session was little more than a missed opportunity for Indiana,” Ritz said.

Here’s what happened to 14 education bills on the legislative agenda this year that are moving forward and three that won’t:

BILLS HEADING TO THE GOVERNOR

ISTEP repeal. House Bill 1395, authored by House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would eliminate the state’s ISTEP testing program by July 2017 and create a committee to study new testing options and review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system. The bill passed the House 77-19 and the Senate 50-0.

Teacher scholarships. 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 classes. The bill passed the House 97-0 and the Senate 48-2.

Teacher mentoring. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor new teachers. The bill would also allow teachers in their first two years of work who receive poor ratings on their annual reviews to be eligible for salary raises. Right now, teachers who receive low marks are not allowed to earn raises. The extra pay is not open to union negotiation, and neither is extra pay for teachers of Advanced Placement classes that was added later on. The mentoring bill also absorbed all of a Senate bill that would, among other things, extend the deadline to apply for private school tuition vouchers. The bill passed the House 51-43 and the Senate 33-17.

Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would study possible future partnerships between high schools and universities for teachers in the state’s popular dual college credit program, which allows students to earn college credit while still in high school. The bill is a response to a change in rules from the state’s accrediting body that says all dual credit teachers need master’s degrees or 18 graduate credit hours in the subjects they teach. It passed the House 84-5 and the Senate 49-1.

Minority teacher scholarships. House Bill 1034, authored by Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, would make technical changes to the minority teacher scholarship and change its name in honor of the of former state Rep. William A. Crawford from Indianapolis who died last year. The bill passed the House 95-0 and the Senate 50-0.

Minority student teaching stipend. House Bill 1179, authored by Rep. Donna Harris, D-East Chicago, would let students from underrepresented ethnic groups who are pursuing degrees to become school administrators receive a stipend from the minority student teaching fund. The final version of the bill also includes provisions on school building improvements. The bill passed the House 95-0 and the Senate 50-0.

Workplace Spanish. House Bill 1209, authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, would allow schools to recognize students who have passed certain Spanish language classes with a special designation on their high school transcripts. The bill passed the House 94-1 and the Senate 40-10.

High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require all public high schools to offer any diploma approved by the Indiana State Board of Education. It passed the House 93-0 and the Senate 50-0.

Federal funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, would require, among other things, that the Indiana Department of Education make available to schools and districts the formula and data used to calculate school federal poverty aid. It passed the House 83-11 and the Senate 26-24.

Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, establishes requirements for enrollment in Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools that run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. It would also allow a traditional public school board to make an agreement with a charter school to become an Innovation Network School. If the innovation school wants to use just student test score growth, rather than the test scores themselves, to determine its A-F accountability grade, it would be allowed to for up to three years. The bill passed the House 87-9 and the Senate 49-1.

Curricular materials. Senate Bill 96, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, gives school districts four years, instead of 3, on contracts to buy or lease curricular materials, such as textbooks. It passed the Senate 49-0 and the House 95-0.

Out-of-school learning fund. Senate Bill 251, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, would create a fund to give schools grants to pay for programs before and after school. The bill also creates an advisory board to make recommendations about the fund to the Indiana Department of Education. It passed the Senate 41-4 and the House 90-4.

Various education issuesSenate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, has many provisions, including one that would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so lower-grade teachers can participate in a federal loan forgiveness programs for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require that schools have a source of safe drinking water. Additionally, the sweeping bill assigns a variety of issues to study committees, including school start times, incentives for dual credit teachers and the feasibility of individual teacher salary negotiations. The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 96-0.

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. The bill passed the Senate 48-0 and the House 95-0.

MAJOR BILLS THAT DIED

Teacher pay. Senate Bill 10, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, and House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would have allowed districts to give teachers extra pay outside of union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements. The House version said the pay could only be given to teachers who took a job the district deemed hard to fill, but the Senate version would have authorized extra pay to attract or retain teachers “as needed.” Both bills were strongly opposed by some teachers and teachers unions, who argued the measure usurped not only union power but also could create a poisonous atmosphere among teachers and administrators. Supporters said the freedom was needed to combat teacher hiring problems across the state. House and Senate Republicans said too much “misinformation” had been spread about the bills and decided not to call either one for a final vote.

Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Kenley, would have allowed school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. The bill passed the Senate 48-2, but Kenley withdrew the measure at a House committee meeting after public testimony revealed a lack of public support. “For some reason … there is such a fervor among the small school group that this is an inappropriate bill,” Kenley said. “I don’t have any desire to pass a bill that tells someone to do something they don’t want to do.”

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.