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.

getting to know you

These 10 Colorado lawmakers are rethinking how the state pays for its public schools

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
State Sen. Rachel Zezninger, an Arvada Democrat, on the first day of the legislative session.

Ten Colorado lawmakers, many with longstanding ties to the education community, are set to begin debating the future of Colorado’s school finance system.

The legislative group tasked with studying and making recommendations about how the state pays for public education includes former teachers and superintendents, a former State Board of Education member and a practicing charter school lawyer.

State Rep. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, will lead the committee during its first year.

Garnett helped establish the committee earlier this year when he co-sponsored House Bill 1340 with state Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. Lundeen also will serve on the panel.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, will be the vice-chair.

The committee was formed against a backdrop of fear that the state’s schools would face deep budget cuts next school year. However, lawmakers at the last minute averted putting the state’s schools in an even deeper financial hole.

Still, lawmakers from both parties and members of the state’s education community agree the funding system is outdated and in need of a massive overhaul. The state last made significant changes to the system in 1994.

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for July 24. Among its first decisions will be selecting a third-party consultant to help with research and guide discussions and decisions.

Here’s the full committee:

  • State Rep. Alec Garnett, Denver Democrat, chair
  • State Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs Republican, vice chair
  • State Sen. Janet Buckner, Aurora Democrat
  • State Sen. Bob Gardner, Colorado Springs Republican
  • State Rep. Millie Hamner, Frisco Democrat
  • State Rep. Timothy Leonard, Evergreen Republican
  • State Rep. Paul Lundeen, Monument Republican
  • State Sen. Michael Merrifield, Colorado Springs Democrat
  • State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, Sterling Republican
  • State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, Arvada Democrat

CSI New York

Will you close my school? Transfer school staff, parents and students worry about the new federal education law

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
A class at Brooklyn Frontiers High School

Jamie Hawkins marched to the front of a Brooklyn auditorium Tuesday night holding two pieces of paper.

One had information from her son’s Individualized Education Program, which showed that when he entered high school, he read at a second-grade level and did math at a sixth-grade level. The other, she said proudly, proved he graduated from high school.

The reason her son finished school is he attended Brooklyn Frontiers High School, she said, one of several schools in New York City designed specifically for students who have fallen behind.

“He got the skills that he needed,” she explained after her testimony. When asked if he would have graduated without Brooklyn Frontiers she said, “No. Absolutely not.”

Students, teachers and parents from the city’s transfer high schools — which serve students who are over-age and under-credited — crowded into the Prospect Heights Educational Campus on Tuesday for a hearing on the Every Student Succeeds Act, which they fear will treat their schools unfairly.

These schools present a conundrum for state officials. The new law requires that schools with graduation rates under 67 percent are targeted for improvement. But for transfer schools, many people testified at the hearing, that is often an unrealistic standard.

“The language of this legislation, the ESSA legislation, puts our schools in grave danger,” said Rachel Forsyth, director of partnership schools at Good Shepherd Services, a nonprofit that works in multiple transfer schools.

So what will happen to transfer schools under New York’s draft ESSA plan? Are they really in danger? Here’s what we found out:

What does the plan currently say?

The state’s draft plan does not separate the way it evaluates transfer schools from how it judges traditional high schools — but it does gives all high schools some wiggle room.

Instead of using on-time (four-year) graduation rates, the state allows six-year graduation rates in its draft plan. That might not be enough for transfer schools, though. The average six-year graduation rate for transfer schools is 46.7 percent.

If a school does not meet a six-year graduation rate of 67 percent, it will be identified as a school that needs improvement.

Can the state make an exception for transfer schools under the law?

The state says all high schools have to reach a 67 percent graduation rate. Based on information the state’s education department has received from the U.S. Department of Education, there is no exemption for transfer high schools, state officials said.

But advocates say the law offers more leeway. Under the regulations approved by former U.S. Education Secretary John King, schools that serve special populations — such as alternative schools — were permitted to use different metrics than traditional high schools.

Those regulations have been undone by Congress, but the fact that they existed before shows the law allows that flexibility, said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of EdTrust-NY.

“We believe that the state can and should propose a different methodology for identifying specialized schools, such as transfer schools,” Rosenblum said.

What will happen if transfer schools are identified for improvement?

At one point during the hearing, a transfer school advocate gestured to the crowd and declared that if this plan moves forward, all the transfer schools represented in the room would soon cease to exist.

That is very unlikely to come to pass. Even if a school is identified as needing improvement, it would probably be several years before it could face any serious consequences under the new law, according to the state’s draft.

If a school is identified for Comprehensive School Improvement (CSI), it has three years to receive extra support and to implement an improvement plan. Then, it could be put into the state’s receivership program, which means it would likely have another two years to demonstrate improvement. If it does not demonstrate enough improvement, it risks being taken over by an outside receiver.

The state has already proven itself lenient in forcing an independent receiver on schools. So far, only one school in New York state has been threatened with takeover. According to state officials, once schools are in receivership, the state education commissioner has some flexibility in tracking their progress and determining whether schools should still be deemed struggling.

Still, any threat looms large for transfer schools, whose advocates say even if the worst-case scenario never plays out, they are still being rated by unfair metrics.

“We’re already working with kids who have been told repeatedly they are failures. Now we’re looking at a system where 90 percent of the [transfer] schools in the city will be looked at as failing schools,” Forsyth said. “I don’t think it’s really understanding the population we’re working with.”

State officials said they are aware of these concerns and will work to come up with a solution.