From the Statehouse

Indiana legislature passes 31 education bills in 2014

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Dumping Common Core and starting a preschool pilot were the top headlines for the legislature this year, but 2014 also brought a host of other significant education changes to Indiana, from establishing a new state agency to track data to allowing gun owners to bring their weapons into school parking lots.

Lawmakers last week wrapped up a busy year for education bills, especially given that this was a non-budget “short” session, ending in mid-March instead of at the end of April. Most of the education bills that were introduced in committees advanced. About two-thirds of the education-related bills that passed a committee in the House or Senate ultimately made it though to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk.

Pence’s personal scorecard did a little better, thanks especially to a late rally that reinstated his top priority — a preschool pilot program — back into a bill from which it had been stripped by the Senate.

In all, six of the eight education bills that were a part of Pence’s education agenda passed, including new supports for dropout recovery charter high schools, a study of career and technical education programs, charter school funding flexibility, changes to the state takeover process for schools and grants and loans for aspiring teachers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The two agenda items Pence didn’t get were his “teacher choice” program, to provide stipends to teachers who switch jobs to work in troubled schools, and a bill that would have provided financial supports for teacher expenses and innovative ideas.

Still, at times Pence struggled to get his education bills to gain traction, and his batting average was better on non-education bills (18 of 20) on his legislative agenda.

Here’s a look at where the 45 education bills Chalkbeat tracked during the session ended up:

BILLS THAT PASSED

Senate bills passed and forwarded to the governor for his signature:

House bill passed and forwarded to the governor for his signature:

  • Preschool pilot. House Bill 1004 establishes a preschool pilot program that could serve as many as 4,000 four-year-olds in five counties.
  • Indiana Knowledge Network. House Bill 1003 creates a new state department whose leader has been described as a new “data czar” for Indiana and allows education data to be used as part of the state’s workforce development efforts.
  • Drop out recovery charter schools. House Bill 1028 requires a study of dropout recovery charter schools, which mostly serve adults, including how to fund them. It lifts a cap on the number of dropout recovery charter schools that can open and specifies that only the state charter school board can approve new ones.
  • Day care safety. House Bill 1036 adds health, safety, education and training requirements for day care centers that receive federal aid administered by the state.
  • Tax cap fix. House Bill 1062 gives districts more flexibility to manage their debt and avoid shortfalls that have resulted from property tax caps in some districts.
  • Charter School compacts. House Bill 1063  allows districts to trade building space or services to charter schools in return for the ability to count test scores from charter schools in the district averages.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1064 creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana.
  • School transfers. House Bill 1079 allows the siblings of a student who has transferred from one district to another to have preference for making the same transfer.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1181 makes career and technical centers eligible for state grants and special funds.
  • Immunity for health issues. House Bill 1204 gives school districts immunity for incidents that arise from student health conditions that were not previously disclosed to the district.
  • Career and technical diploma. House Bill 1213 creates a new career and technical diploma.
  • Student athlete health awareness. House Bill 1290 requires training for coaches and others about the risks of sudden cardiac arrest for athletes.
  • Bus out of service order. House Bill 1303 requires additional notifications if a bus is ruled out of service during inspection.
  • High ability students. House Bill 1319 requires more reporting from schools about students who score in the high ability range on ISTEP.
  • Innovation schools. House Bill 1321 allows Indianapolis Public Schools to forge unique partnerships with charter schools.
  • Allergic reaction injections. House Bill 1323 allows colleges to keep EpiPens and administer them if needed.
  • Bond refunding. House Bill 1340 allows for bonds to be refunded when schools consolidate.
  • Teacher preparation program. House Bill 1388 requires teacher education programs to submit data about their graduates to the Indiana Department of Education and establishes a rating system.

BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS

House bills that passed committee but were not advanced:

  • School bus safety. House Bill 1042 would have allowed traffic cameras on school buses.
  • Excused absences at the state fair. House Bill 1056 was one of two bills addressing this issue, the other, Senate Bill 114, passed.
  • Athletic participation. House bill 1047 would have allowed virtual charter school students to participate in sports at their local public school districts.
  • Expanded background checks. House Bill 1233 would have required school employees receive an expanded background check every five years. It was defeated in a floor vote by the Senate, 24-23.

Senate bills that passed committee but were not advanced:

  • Cursive writing. For the third consecutive year, a bill passed the Senate requiring schools to teach cursive handwriting, and for the third straight year it died without a vote in the House on Senate Bill 113.
  • Tax cap fixes. Senate Bill 143 and Senate bill 163 both were trying to give districts more flexibility to manage their debt and avoid shortfalls that have resulted from property tax caps. A different bill addressing this problem, House Bill 1062, passed.
  • Drop Out Recovery Charter Schools. Senate bill 159 would have continued to fund dropout recovery charter schools, which mostly serve adults, separately from the K-12 funding formula. A different bill designed to resolve funding concerns for the schools, House Bill 1028, passed.
  • Teacher preparation program. Senate Bill 204 would have required teacher education programs to submit data about their graduates to the Indiana Department of Education and establishes a rating system. A similar bill, House Bill 1388, was passed.
  • Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 would have made highly rated teachers who take jobs at D- or F-rated traditional public or charter schools eligible for extra pay from state stipends.
  • Music curriculum. Senate Bill 276 would have required schools to assure music is part of the curriculum, including ensembles.
  • School bus driver physicals. Senate Bill 278 would have required school bus drivers to undergo physical exams.
  • Various education matters. Senate bill 284 included provisions that would have made several changes to state law, mostly dealing with issues of unions and their contracts.
  • Winter holiday traditions. Aimed at protecting Christmas traditions, Senate Bill 326 would have permitted schools to teach about winter holidays and use holiday symbols.

College Access

Tennessee lawmakers advance bill to give undocumented immigrants in-state tuition

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Students visit the Tennessee State Capitol with local immigrant advocacy groups in support of a measure that would ensure all Tennessee students get in-state tuition.

While President Donald Trump is considering scrapping protections for undocumented students, Tennessee lawmakers advanced a bill on Wednesday that would make it easier for them to go to college.

A proposal to give undocumented immigrant students in-state tuition passed the Senate Education Committee with a 7-2 vote and little debate.

The move was fairly unusual, given Tennessee lawmakers’ typical hardline stance on undocumented immigrants — the state outlawed “sanctuary cities” in 2009 — and the president’s focus on the issue. But the bill’s Republican sponsor, Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, has steered clear of national politics and focused instead on how the proposal would continue the state’s push to get more of its young people into college.

“We know that if more Tennesseans have a college degree, the whole state is better off,” he said. “By allowing more Tennesseans to enroll in college, we can fill crucial labor shortages and expand the overall tax base.”

Sixteen states, and four other state university systems, offered in-state tuition to undocumented students in 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six states explicitly bar those students from receiving it.

Advocates say the policy can make a big difference for families. Out-of-state tuition to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is $30,914, compared to $12,274 in-state. And for community colleges, the difference is even greater: out-of-state tuition at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis costs more than $15,000, while other Tennessee high school graduates can attend for free through Tennessee Promise.

Undocumented students can’t access federal Pell grants to pay for college, nor do they qualify for the state’s free community college program, which relies on federal grants.

Making sure students who have lived in Tennessee most of their lives can graduate from college means a better return on taxpayers’ investment, Gardenhire said.

“We invest in these students throughout their K-12 education,” he said. “But then they get to college, and they have to pay three times the in-state rate.”

The bill still has several hurdles to overcome before becoming law, since it hasn’t been heard yet in the House and Tennessee’s legislative session is nearing its end. But its sponsor in the House, Rep. Mark White, a Republican from Memphis, said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances there as well. Gov. Bill Haslam has said in the past that allowing all Tennessee students in-state tuition “has merit.”

On Wednesday, dozens of immigrant students attended the hearing to watch the vote. Many remembered a similar bill that died in the House two years ago, just one vote short.

Many were heartened by the vote, according to Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director of Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition.

“We are optimistic that subsequent committees will vote to support Tuition Opportunity and that undocumented students in the class of 2017 will be able to graduate with greater opportunity to enroll in college this fall,” she said in a statement.

And then there was one

This year’s list of school voucher bills just got shorter in Tennessee

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Sen. Dolores Gresham (right) chairs the Senate Education Committee. On Wednesday, she tabled a $71 million voucher-like proposal for consideration next year.

Tennessee lawmakers advocating for vouchers and similar school-choice programs are now rallying behind a single bill.

One tuition voucher bill died Wednesday in committee due to a lack of votes, while a more expansive voucher-like measure was tabled until next year. And the sponsor of a third bill, which would expand another voucher-like program for special education students, pulled that proposal from consideration as well.

After the flurry of action in the Senate Education Committee, voucher advocates only have a proposed pilot program in Memphis to focus on, and that bill appears to have momentum. Sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville, the measure passed a House education committee on Tuesday, and heads next to the House Government and Operations and Senate Finance committees.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire

The voucher bill that stalled Wednesday was similar to one that almost became law last year. Sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga and Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, the proposal would have impacted students in districts with “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent, which includes Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Jackson. It garnered only four of the five votes needed to pass, with four senators electing to pass, and one voting no.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dolores Gresham announced that she was tabling until next year her voucher-like proposal that could shift up to $71 million annually in public dollars toward private education services.

Gresham, a Republican from Somerville who chairs the panel, said she wants to flesh out her proposal based on what other states, including Nevada and Arkansas, are doing to fund their massive school-choice programs.  

“I need some time to look at what they’re doing, because that might be very helpful in the future for us to fund empowerment scholarships,” she said. “I’m very excited about what I see happening across the country.”

Gresham added that momentum is building at the national level, too, now that Betsy DeVos is U.S. secretary of education under President Donald Trump. DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist from Michigan, has made a career of advocating to give parents more flexibility on how to spend public education funding.

“I’m excited to see what the new secretary might bring to the table,” she said.

Gresham’s bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Roger Kane of Knoxville, would allow any parent to use up to $7,000 of public school funding toward private schools, tutoring or other educational services through Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The proposal would be similar to a program that went into effect this year for special education students, but far more sweeping.

All of Tennessee’s 1 million public school students would be eligible to participate, though the program would be capped at 9,600.

The state’s new voucher-like program for special education students was created by the legislature last year, and Kelsey was seeking this year to expand it. But the bill faced opposition due to the potential cost to public schools, and he took it off notice on Wednesday.