here's the plan

Holcomb’s 2018 education goals skip some of Pence’s most controversial priorities

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Holcomb speaks to a crowd at the statehouse to unveil his 2018 legislative priorities.

If Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative priorities are any indication, next year won’t be the kind of education legislative session Hoosiers might be used to, with testing and school choice possibly taking a back seat to college and career prep.

Holcomb announced his 2018 legislative agenda Wednesday morning. His goals focus primarily on workforce issues, with K-12 education as one piece of that system. Overall, Holcomb’s education initiatives stem from a desire to better integrate what schools are teaching students with what employers are looking for when they hire.

“This year we’re going to be focused on our people,” Holcomb said during today’s press conference unveiling his plans. “We’re going to have to make sure our workforce is skilled up.”

Nationally, Republicans and Democrats have increasingly carved out space in their education policy plans for workforce and post-high school efforts. President Donald Trump has spoken publicly about the need for vocational training, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set a goal to increase the number of students graduating from city colleges with technical degrees.

But while this view isn’t new to Indiana — Pence got the ball rolling with a state Career Council and more funding for career and technical education — it’s a departure from the heavy K-12 schools focus Pence displayed during much of his administration.

When Vice President Mike Pence was Indiana’s chief executive, education was front and center — from charter schools and private school vouchers to battles over the state superintendent’s role and leaving Common Core. Although Holcomb had a fairly successful year when it came to last year’s education goals around preschool and making the state superintendent an appointed position, he has been far less focused on education policy Indiana Republicans have typically championed — particularly the areas of school choice, testing and accountability — than his predecessor.

Holcomb’s 2018 agenda includes:

  • Creating an “Education to Career Pathway Cabinet” to centralize education initiatives among the department of education, commission for higher education and department of workforce development.
  • Requiring every Indiana school to offer at least one computer science class by 2021, as well as training for teachers in computer science.
  • Creating the Office of Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning to increase opportunities for high school students and adults.
  • Broadening teacher licensure requirements for people interested in teaching career and technical education classes.

The cabinet would oversee plans that come out of local and regional groups — replacing the state’s former regional work councils — that are centered around things like job training, career and technical education partnerships or possibly even graduation pathways. The local groups would potentially have some measure of control over a portion of education funding dedicated to career and technical education. Right now, those dollars flow from the state to school general funds.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be on the pathways cabinet. She has yet to release her own legislative agenda for the coming session, but her response to today’s announcement was positive overall.

“We are happy to be a part of Governor Holcomb’s education efforts,” McCormick said in a statement. “Any efforts that promise to bring more success to students are something we will stand behind.”

That’s pretty much where Holcomb’s education agenda ends. But it doesn’t mean Indiana won’t soon face some major education decisions.

When lawmakers start their work early next year, they’ll likely have to deal with the state’s diploma crisis. Because of new federal law, Indiana’s general diploma — a less rigorous alternative to the default Core 40 diploma that about 12 percent of Indiana students earn — will cease to count in the graduation rate Indiana must report for federal accountability.

That means many schools could see their graduation rates plummet, and the students who earn the general diploma (typically students who struggle academically or those with special needs) won’t be counted as graduates to the federal government, a concern for parents and special education advocates who have been looking for more ways to include students in the mainstream education system.

Indiana is also in the process of planning for that new federal law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. There have already been a few major hiccups, most notably the diploma issue, the state’s plan to offer separate state and federal A-F grades next year (partially a response to the graduation rate issue) and a recently announced proposal to give high schoolers the SAT or ACT in place of end-of-course exams. All of these issues will need to be handled to some extent by McCormick or the Indiana State Board of Education, but lawmakers would probably also need to be involved.

On top of all that, Indiana educators are also getting close to a 2022 deadline that requires them to have more advanced degrees in order to teach the popular dual credit classes that give high schoolers college credit. Many are worried that the rule change would disqualify a significant number of current dual credit teachers. Educators have repeatedly appealed to lawmakers for funding to help teachers get the education they need, but no major steps have been taken.

Read: How changes to dual credit and federal law are affecting schools and putting Indiana education officials in a bind

Indiana’s two top Republican leaders, Senate President David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma were supportive of Holcomb’s workforce focus and “bold,” “aggressive” agenda, an early indication that he might see support from key lawmakers.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

These are the 13 education bills poised to become law in Indiana in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma talks with Democrats shortly before the session adjourned without passing several bills.

Despite a chaotic end to this year’s legislative session, lawmakers managed to push through several education bills that could bring changes for teachers, students and schools.

And it’s not quite over either.

Lawmakers ran out of time before their midnight deadline last week, leaving behind several major bills, including a bill that would expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie school districts. On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he’d be calling for a special session so they could revisit that issue and others.

In non-budget year, it can be hard to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. This year, the biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to Holcomb, where he can decide whether to sign them into law. You can find the status of all the bills introduced this year here, and Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

Graduation and workforce

Senate Bill 50 establishes the governor’s workforce cabinet, which would oversee job training efforts across the state. The cabinet would create a “career navigation and coaching system,” which all Indiana high schools would be required to participate in. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be a cabinet member.

House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. It makes several changes to state tests, replacing the state high school exam with a national college-entrance exam and eliminating the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. The final version of the bill also changes the timing of testing from earlier version. Students wouldn’t begin the new graduation pathways plan until 2021, so the same deadline was applied to switching to a college entrance exam for state accountability. Until then, state education officials will have to decide what annual test high schoolers take when students in grades 3-8 switch to the new ILEARN test next year.

Finance

House Bill 1001 would close the gap in school funding that resulted from miscalculations in the number of students attending public schools. The bills would let the state transfer up to $25 million this year and up to $75 million next year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts. The bill also calls for a study of virtual education programs within school districts.

Instruction

Senate Bill 172 would require public schools to offer computer science classes as an elective in high schools, as well as a part of the science curriculum for all K-12 students, by 2021. The bill also sets up a grant program to help pay for teacher training in computer science.

Senate Bill 297 would require schools to include “employability skills,” also known as “soft skills,” in their curriculums. The idea for the bill came from David Freitas, a member of the state board of education.

Senate Bill 65 would require school districts to let parents examine any instructional materials dealing with sex education. It would also require schools to send out consent forms for sex ed classes, where parents could then opt students out of the class. If they do not, the students would still receive instruction.

House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science. It would also require the state education department to create an incentive program to reward teachers who earn the content area licenses.

Senate Bill 387 would allow districts to pay teachers different amounts and give special education and science teachers extra stipends in an effort to fill jobs. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers has been added and removed several times this year, and was killed for good in conference committee. The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit. Career specialists would have to pass an exam showing they understand how students learn and the practice of teaching, in addition to content exams. The bill also removes a provision from the current version of the permit that says a career specialist must have a bachelor’s degree in the area they wish to teach in.

Miscellaneous

House Bill 1420, among several other measures, would not let a student who has been expelled from a virtual charter school for non-attendance re-enroll in that same school during the same school year.

House Bill 1421 would ask the state education department to develop a school discipline model that reduces suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color. It also requires the department to provide guidance and information to districts, beginning in 2019, that want to use that model. It encourages the legislative council to study positive student discipline and restorative justice and asks the education department to survey districts on those practices.

House Bill 1398 would allow a group of charter schools and districts to form a “coalition” to pursue innovative academic strategies. Coalition members could also waive certain state requirements, such as the requirement that students pass Algebra 2 to graduate.

Senate Bill 217 would require districts and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia and by 2019, to employ at least one reading specialist trained in dyslexia, among other provisions.

House Bill 1314 would set up data sharing between the state’s education and child services departments. It would also require that the Indiana State Board of Education release an annual report about foster and homeless youth education.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

State takeover plans for Gary and Muncie could be revived as Indiana lawmakers return in May

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed reporters Monday. He's asking lawmakers to return for a special session in May.

Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse this May after an unusual summons Monday from Gov. Eric Holcomb, and it’s possible they could revisit a controversial plan to expand state takeover of the Gary and Muncie school districts.

But Holcomb said the takeover plan should not be pushed through during a special session and should be acted upon next year. It’s been more than a decade since lawmakers held a special session in a non-budget year.

“I would prefer to wait,” Holcomb said. “I don’t believe that it rises to the level of urgency to be dealt with right now.”

The regular legislative session ended in chaos last week, with lawmakers leaving this and several other important bills unresolved when the clock ran out.

Republican lawmakers have been largely supportive of the takeover plan, and so they could revive the issue despite Holcomb’s stance. Holcomb said discussions would happen this week over what issues could be addressed during the special session.

House Bill 1315 sparked heated debate right up until the final minutes of the 2018 legislative session. The bill would have given control of Muncie schools to Ball State University and stripped power from the Gary school board. Another part of the bill would have developed an early warning system to identify districts in financial trouble.

On Thursday, House Speaker Brian Bosma said the bill was one of the important issues left on the table when the legislature had to adjourn.

But Senate President David Long also noted that the bill has been massively unpopular in some circles — Democrats were strongly opposed to it, as were teachers unions and some educators and community members.

Both Republican leaders said in statements Monday that they supported the governor’s special session request. But John Zody, the Indiana Democratic Party chairman, derided the move as wasteful and a reflection of lawmakers’ inability to finish their work on time.

“Republican leadership incompetently steered session into a wall on the last lap,” Zody said in a statement. “Now they’re asking taxpayers to foot the bill for another shot at passing their do-nothing agenda.”

Holcomb said his biggest priorities during the special session would be getting a $12 million loan from the state’s Common School Fund to Muncie schools to deal with financial difficulties stemming from declining enrollment and mismanagement of a bond issue. That loan was originally a provision in the House bill.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said Monday morning that she also would support action to get Muncie schools the money they were promised. McCormick also said the early warning system could be helpful to prevent these situations in the future.

“We want Muncie to be successful,” McCormick said, adding that anything the state can do to be proactive “and get people help so we’re not dealing with more Muncies and Garys” is a good thing.

The special session could come with a steep price tag for Indiana taxpayers. Micah Vincent, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said early estimates for calling lawmakers back into session could be about $30,000 per day. But that cost “is dwarfed by the cost of inaction,” Holcomb said. It’s unclear how long the special session could last.

The governor also said he wanted to prioritize school safety legislation, another measure that didn’t get final votes before time ran out. He is calling for lawmakers to direct $10 million over the next two years to the state’s Secured School Fund. The money would allow districts to request dollars for new and improved school safety equipment and building improvements.

His plan comes in the wake of a shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty members were killed last month.

The shooting also sparked activism across the country, with thousands of students protesting against gun violence in schools and calling for stricter gun regulations. Last Wednesday, many Hoosier students joined the national movement by walking out of school.