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

Ball State could take over Muncie schools. Here’s their track record overseeing charter schools.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Ball State University oversees all three Hoosier Academies schools.

A new proposal out of the Indiana House would let Ball State University take control of the financially distressed Muncie public school district through an appointed seven-member board.

House Bill 1315, parts of which also apply to the Gary school district, was heard in a House committee on Wednesday, where the amendment on Muncie was introduced. The proposal comes about nine months after lawmakers approved a bill that gave financial control of Muncie schools to the state, and just a month after the state took full control of Muncie’s academics as well.

The move is unusual — the state has never before given an entire school district to a university to run. But it isn’t out of left field. Ball State was one of the first groups in the state to oversee charter schools, and as House Speaker Brian Bosma pointed out, Ball State is also a college with a large teaching program that has two laboratory high schools in Indiana.

“I don’t know if it will be a trend,” Bosma said. “Ball State has a long history of education involvement … I’m very comfortable with Ball State’s ability to do something like that. It’s up to those working on the legislation to see if it’s a good idea or not.”

But the university doesn’t have a stellar track record overseeing charter schools. In 2017, about half of its schools were rated D or F. Only one, the Dr. Robert H. Faulkner Academy, received an A rating in the 2016-17 school year.

As of 2017, more than 17,000 students were attending 27 Ball State-monitored charter schools — 11 in Gary, eight in Central Indiana, five in the southern part of the state, and four statewide virtual schools. Ball State has revoked 10 charters in the past several years.

Recently, the university came under intense scrutiny from the Indiana State Board of Education for one of the schools it’s responsible for, Hoosier Academy Virtual, one of the state’s largest online charter schools. The school was required to have a hearing with the state board for the first time in 2015 for four years of F-grades, and after multiple state board hearings — and two more F grades — the board decided not to close the school. Instead, it capped enrollment and reduced Ball State’s authorizing fees.

But in September, the school announced it would close in June because it was not confident Ball State would renew its charter.

On Wednesday, Ball State officials said they were re-evaluating the quality and processes related to their charter school oversight.

Here are the most recent grades for the rest of the charter schools Ball State oversees, as well as the counties they are in and the years they opened. Schools without grades either have not been open long enough to receive them or still have grades being reviewed by the state board of education:

School 2016-17 grade
Indiana Connections Career Academy 2017 (Virtual)
Dr. Robert H. Faulkner Academy 2008 (Grant) A
The Bloomington Project School 2009 (Monroe) B
Discovery Charter School 2010 (Porter) B
Gary Middle College 2012 (Lake) B
Mays Community Academy 2015 (Rush) B
Renaissance Academy 2007 (La Porte) B
Rock Creek Community Academy 2010 (Clark) B
Anderson Preparatory Academy 2008 (Madison) C
Canaan Community Academy 2012 (Jefferson) C
Community Montessori 2002 (Floyd) C
Gary Lighthouse Charter School 2005 (Lake) C
Geist Montessori Academy 2006 (Hancock) C
Rural Community Academy 2004 (Sullivan) C
21st Century Charter School at Gary 2005 (Lake) D
East Chicago Lighthouse Charter School 2006 (Lake) D
East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy 2005 (Lake) D
Hoosier Academy – Indianapolis 2008 (Marion) D
Inspire Academy 2013 (Delaware) D
Aspire Charter Academy 2008 (Lake) F
Hoosier Academies Virtual Charter School 2012 (Virtual) F
Indiana Connections Academy 2012 (Virtual) F
Insight School of Indiana 2016 (Virtual) F
Neighbor’s New Vista High School 2012 (Porter) F
Options Charter School – Carmel 2004 (Hamilton) F
Options Charter School – Noblesville 2006 (Hamilton) F
Xavier School of Excellence 2009 (St. Joseph) F

Indiana is getting into district takeover at a time when state education officials have shied away from taking such drastic steps to help schools improve. Several schools were taken over by the state and turned over to charter operators in 2012, but since then, Indiana has more frequently opted to partner with schools to make change, such as  the “transformation zone” and innovation school models in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Interestingly, neither the Indiana Department of Education nor State Board of Education play major roles in district takeover. The amendment includes provisions that the district make reports to the Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which handles school districts and other state entities in financial trouble, and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Muncie was originally identified as needing the state’s involvement after taking on $18 million in debt and mismanaging money from a school bond. In the past few years it has also lost students, which means losing valuable contributions from the state. After last year’s bill passed, the district formed plans to improve finances, which included closing schools, but the district is not financially clear yet.

If the trustees at Ball State agree to take control of the district, they would form a board consisting of members appointed by Ball State, Muncie’s mayor, and the Muncie city council. The amendment says the school district must adopt “academically innovative strategies,” frees the district from certain regulations, and requires them to hold elections for new union representation.

“The future of Muncie is dependent on the future of our public schools,” said Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns. “We hope … to develop programs to sustain and improve the academic quality so students do not choose to leave Muncie public schools.”

Mearns and other Ball State officials said this set-up is better than having an outside emergency manager running the district because Ball State has ties to Muncie and the community. But some lawmakers from the Muncie area were surprised they had only just heard of this plan. Rep. Sue Errington, a Democrat from Muncie, said that the lack of open discussion is frustrating.

“It makes us feel that we aren’t being part of the solution, that it’s a solution being put upon us,” Errington said. “I hope we will find a little more two-way street than what it’s been so far.”

The bill would also allow the district’s emergency manager to fire teachers to reduce expenses and creates a system to identify districts with fiscal problems early. The system would bring aggressive consequences — if a district is identified on the fiscal watch list for four consecutive years, the district’s superintendent could have their license revoked or suspended by the appeal board.

The bill and its amendment are not yet scheduled for a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Holcomb calls for changes to Indiana diplomas and more computer science in annual address

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb addresses lawmakers during his 2018 State of the State speech.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s second major address to Hoosiers stuck closely to his biggest education policy priority for 2018: Ensuring students are prepared for life after high school.

“We must ensure that every Hoosier student receives an education infused with STEM subjects, critical thinking skills and the intellectual curiosity that prepares them for lifelong learning,” Holcomb said. “So when they graduate from high school, they have a ticket to their future success, be it going on to college or entering the workforce to realize a fulfilling career.”

His speech Tuesday night didn’t break much new ground, and some main themes — such as emphasizing science education and job training — are holdovers from last year. But while K-12 education has never been Holcomb’s strong suit, his remarks did indicate the importance the Republican governor is placing on adjusting the education system to better address his economic goals and showed he would be willing to even put money behind the effort.

His remarks on education — which took only a few minutes of his 30-minute speech before the legislature — appeared to align with a couple of key bills winding their ways through the Indiana General Assembly.

A bill to create a single state diploma has the support of some Republican legislative leaders so far, as well as state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. It’s not clear exactly where Holcomb comes down on this issue, but he did call for changes to the state’s current system, which has four separate diplomas.

“Late last year, Indiana’s State Board of Education took a crucial step by approving new graduation pathways for high school students beginning in 2019,” Holcomb said. “And this year, we must advance a more relevant high school diploma so that every student graduates with a diploma that is their opportunity to advance to the next step along their path.”

Read: Indiana’s new high school graduation rules were widely opposed by parents and educators. The state board approved them anyway.

Holcomb also said he supports a plan requiring all district and charter schools to teach about computer science in grades K-12, which would include funding so schools can train teachers in the subject area. The money, in the $2 million-dollar range, would come from several existing funds. Currently, about 42 percent of schools in the state offer such instruction.

“This year … we’ll enact legislation to require every Indiana K-12 school to offer computer science courses,” Holcomb said. “And we’ll pay for the teacher professional development they’ll need to inspire their students.”

Here he differs from McCormick, who supports giving more science, technology, engineering and math education to students, but doesn’t want to make it mandatory for districts.

“We want to see it offered to students,” said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. “Their academic path is a decision they need to drive along with the input of their parents, and local educators and counselors.”

Leading state Democrats felt Holcomb’s speech lacked specificity and vision, particularly in the area of job training.

“I was struck more by what he didn’t say,” said Rep. Terry Goodin, House Minority leader and former superintendent. “I guess I was expecting more of a bold vision or bold idea in terms of what do we need to do to the workforce system here in Indiana.”

Yet Republicans cheered some of Holcomb’s goals on job training, acknowledging how unusual it is that legislative leaders and the governor would be on the same page on major priorities.

“I’ve worked with seven different governors, this is somewhat of a unique session,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma. “We’re all on the same page that workforce is the most critical issue.”

Below, you can find more excerpts from Holcomb’s speech.

On job training

“Over the next year, we’ll use the newly created Education to Career Pathways Cabinet — led by Secretary Blair Milo, Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne and OMB Director Micah Vincent — to set the framework to guide regions and communities.

By next year, we must be armed with the framework to drive legislative action, including funding changes. But now, lawmakers, we need your support to position this cabinet for success to ensure our school-age Hoosiers are gaining the experiences and skills they need to thrive in our ever-changing global economy.”

On expanding education programs

“We’ll also take better advantage of programs with proven results, such as the Jobs for America’s Graduates program — or JAG. Last month, I agreed to become the chairman of this terrific national program that helps at-risk students complete their high school diplomas.

I’m committed to expanding JAG. It works. So, as we evaluate programs over the next year, we’ll maximize existing resources and work with the private sector to add 250 more programs all across Indiana within the next five years.”

Read more about Holcomb’s background, first year in office, 2018 education plans and more.