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.”

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.