From the Statehouse

24 education bills to watch as Indiana begins its 2016 legislative session

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lawmakers gathered Tuesday for Gov. Mike Pence's State of the State address.

While lawmakers are sprinting ahead with two major education bills they hope Gov. Mike Pence will sign into law this month, a total of 75 bills filed by lawmakers were assigned to House and Senate education committees by yesterday’s deadline.

That’s a lot, especially for a “short” session of the legislature, with no biennial budget to debate, in 2016.

But we’ve got the highlights below.

Two bills have quickly jumped ahead to full approval by the House or Senate: Senate Bill 200 and House Bill 1003 both aim to hold schools and teachers “harmless” for lower 2015 ISTEP scores. Both are scheduled for votes in the opposite houses next week with a goal of arriving on Pence’s desk by Jan. 19.

What will be the other big issues? Probably the next most high-profile move will be an effort to attract more teachers to the profession.

Bills were filed to start or expand mentoring programs, to increase teacher pay when they take additional education classes or take on on leadership roles and to ease licensing requirements for credentialed out-of-state teachers, among others.

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, both said they were reluctant to hear bills that come with new costs. That would require a special allocation outside of the state budget.

“I’ve been told we will not be moving bills (with new costs),” Behning said. “Education continues to be a priority, but I think we’re trying to do things this year where we’re not really getting involved as much into the minutiae of schools.”

Not all bills that are filed get a hearing. Behning, for instance said he did not plan to move a bill requiring cursive writing to be taught as part of handwriting forward for a hearing, effectively killing it. Here are some of the bills most likely to get hearings in committees:

A-F grades

  • 2015 A-F grades. Senate Bill 200, authored by Kruse, would block schools from receiving a lower 2015 A-F grade than they received in 2014. The bill passed the Senate 48-1 and is expected to pass the House later this week.
  • Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to reset the accountability clock for schools that convert to Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. Currently, schools with six consecutive years of F-grades can be taken over the state. In 2017, the timeline will be shortened to four years.

Testing

  • ISTEP rescore. House Bill 1395, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to hire an outside company to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test. If the scores change, the bill would allow the state to use the new results for calculating future student test score improvement for 2016 A-F school grades. The bill would also create a committee to review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system and see what changes could be made under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Replace ISTEP. House Bill 1114, authored by Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, would replace the state ISTEP test. The new test would include English, math, social studies and science and would likely test the same grades, Kersey said. The test would be administered by the Indiana Department of Education, not a company such as CTB/McGraw-Hill or Pearson. Behning didn’t say he wouldn’t hear the bill, but he said it was doubtful any effort “blow up” the state’s testing program would advance in his committee.

Charter schools

  • 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.
  • Gary charter schools. House Bill 1115, authored by Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, would allow the mayor of Gary to authorize charter schools and create a Gary charter school board.

Teachers

  • Teacher licensing. House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would allow teachers with licenses from other states to be licensed if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject areas they teach, at least a 3.0 college grade point average and have passed Indiana’s teacher license subject tests. The bill would also allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district considers hard to fill.
  • Teacher career pathways. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also set out that teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” could still be eligible for salary raises.
  • Teacher salaries. Senate Bill 10, authored by Raatz, would allow teachers with fewer than 10 years experience to have their years worked count for more to determine their salaries. A teacher’s experience today cannot factor into more than a third of the salary calculation. The bill would allow experience to count for up to 58 percent of the calculation for those in their first decade of teaching.
  • Aspiring teachers. 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 class.
  • Teacher bonuses and evaluation. House Bill 1003, authored by Behning, would ensure that teacher bonuses and evaluations are not negatively impacted by the transition to a new test in 2015. ISTEP scores and A-F grades may not be used in a teacher’s evaluation for that year.
  • Teacher grants. Senate Bill 328, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary,  would create grants for aspiring teachers who are studying subjects in high demand.
  • Teacher shortage. Senate Bill 379, authored by Sen. Peter Miller, R-Avon, would let teachers of special education, science, engineering, technology and math fields negotiate contracts outside and separate from the teachers union that represents them. It would also create a residency program for teachers and try to make it easier for those coming from outside the state to become licensed. Kruse said he has not decided whether to give it a hearing. The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is opposed to the bill.
  • Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would allow any teacher already teaching dual credit classes to get college credits in exchange for the number of classes they teach. For example, a teacher who teaches one dual credit course in U.S. History would be able to take one free class, or three credit hours, in that subject.
  • Teacher retention and recruitment. House Bill 1339, authored by Rep. Randy Truitt, R-Lafayette, includes some of the recommendations of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s teacher panel that met last summer. It would create a program designed to attract more teachers to the classroom and keep others from leaving the profession. The program would include mentoring and set a goal of having one National Board certified teacher in every public school classroom by 2035. Teachers who earn the rigorous credential could seek reimbursement for fees and receive an annual salary bonus of $1,000. Behning said the cost of some of the recommendations could keep it from getting a hearing.

Curriculum

  • Cursive writing. Senate Bill 73, by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would require every school district and accredited private school to teach cursive handwriting. Similar bills passed the Senate in recent years, but not the House. The Senate Education Committee passed this bill 6-4 today.
  • Ethnic history. Senate Bill 268, by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, would require high schools teach students the history of different racial and ethnic groups in U.S. History courses. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but was defeated in the House.
  • High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require public high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn any diploma the state offers. Currently, schools may offer whichever diplomas they choose. Some schools today do not offer a General Diploma, a less-rigorous course of study that some argue is be a better fit for some students, such as those with special needs.

Funding and administration

  • Title I funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, would require, among other things, the Indiana Department of Education, to make available to schools and districts the formula and data they use to calculate federal poverty aid. Behning said this will provide transparency around the issue, which received attention this year when the U.S. Department of Education said it would reveal how funds were allocated to charter schools, some of which reported in 2015 receiving much less than in prior years. 
  • Special education scholarship accounts. Senate Bill 397, authored by Raatz is designed to allow parents to better control where federal and state aid for students in special education is spent. A state fund would be created to hold money that parents could request be directed to their child’s school or other education service providers, such as tutors. Parents who agree to use this fund are ineligible for tax-funded vouchers.
  • Cost efficiency. House Bill 1045, authored by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Greensburg, would offer grants to help schools create cost savings, such as by establishing processes that reduce administrative work, remove duplication of services or lower building maintenance costs.
  • Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would allow school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. Kruse said a similar bill in 2007 did not pass.

Miscellaneous 

  • Technical corrections. Senate Bill 3, authored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, would make some technical adjustments, following up on changes enacted by last year’s massive Senate Bill 500.
  • Various education issues. Senate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so teachers could participate in a federal loan forgiveness program for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require than any contract the state makes with a company to create ISTEP would require the return of scores to the State Board of Education no later than July 1 after the test has been given. The bill also would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5.

Bills that likely won’t receive a hearing:

  • Standardized tests. House Bill 1030, authored by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Depauw, would not allow the Indiana Department of Education to require students in public schools to take standardized tests on a computer. Behning said he is “inclined not to hear” this bill because the logistical problems it could create would be a  “nightmare.”
  • Health education. Senate Bill 175, authored by Leising, would require that the state health and education departments to develop academic standards and curriculum on health education. A version of this bill did not pass in 2015, and Kruse said he doesn’t want to “rehash” a discussion not likely to succeed.
  • Mandatory kindergarten. Senate Bill 199, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, would require Indiana kids who are 5 years old by Aug. 1 be enrolled in kindergarten no later the fall term of that school year. Current law doesn’t require kids start school until they are 7 years old. Kruse said he probably won’t hear the bill because “the majority of our members would not want that.”
  • Expanding preschool. Neither Behning nor Kruse expect to hear similar bills that would expand the state’s preschool pilot program to include 13 counties selected as finalists by the state, but not part of the initial pilot — Senate Bill 203, from Rogers, and House Bill 1270 from Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie. Both lawmakers said they were holding off on passing bills that could cost money and still wanted to see how the five-year pilot plays out.
  • Expelled students. Senate Bill 262, authored by Taylor, would block student expulsions unless the student is enrolled in another school, alternative school or alternative education program.
  • ISTEP delay. Senate Bill 139, authored by Leising, would require a two-year delay of ISTEP scores as factors in school A-F grades and teacher evaluations. The bill was assigned to the Rules Committee, which Leising said means it won’t move forward.

two hats

Denver Public Schools’ glaring conflict: both authorizing and operating schools

Students at Greenlee Elementary School in northeast Denver last month (Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat).

Right after school let out, a line formed outside the second-floor staff room at Greenlee Elementary School in Denver. Teachers, staff, janitors and union representatives all crammed into the space to learn the fate of a school that had been on the ropes academically for years.

Denver Public Schools officials delivered the blow: The school would likely close after 2017-18 and be “restarted” with a new program.

What happened next at the meeting last fall epitomizes the challenges facing the state’s largest school district as it juggles two conflicting roles.

Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova, whose mother attended Greenlee and who still has family in the neighborhood, got emotional as she told the room that district officials shared responsibility in Greenlee’s situation. Cordova pledged to support Principal Sheldon Reynolds’ application to run a replacement program at Greenlee, building on recent gains there.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg, also in the room, made clear that the competition to replace Greenlee would be open, and that he would play no favorites. It will be Boasberg’s job to recommend to the school board next month which applicants should run new programs at Greenlee and another DPS school being closed for poor performance: Amesse Elementary.

“That meeting was a great encapsulation of what it’s like — especially for me, but also for Susana — to be very explicit that we do wear two hats,” Boasberg told Chalkbeat. “It was a very important and challenging conversation.”

Those two hats are school authorizer and school operator. DPS says it has a “firewall” separating those who help run and support district-managed schools, and those who approve schools that make up the district’s nationally recognized “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, innovation and magnet schools.

Managing that separation can be complicated, messy and — this year — tension-filled.

Slower enrollment growth, scant opportunities to locate in a district-owned building, more high-quality district-run proposals and other factors have contributed to a contentious process.

In a district that has long supported charter schools, it is charter schools that are leading the criticism. Even after DPS took extra steps this year to address the operator/authorizer conflict, charter operators are saying the restart competitions have not been fair.

Such tensions are not uncommon in school districts, especially at those with significant charter school growth, said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research and policy group at the University of Washington.

Bias may not be intentional — especially in districts like Denver committed to different governing structures — but it can be damaging to promoting great schools without labels, she said.

“There can be an internal schizophrenia in the main office about what its core job is,” Lake said.

Tensions are running highest in DPS over the competition for the Amesse restart in northeast Denver.

All three applicants are considered strong: local college-prep charter networks STRIVE Prep and University Prep, and a proposed district-run partnership between nearby McGlone Academy and existing Amesse staff called the Montbello Children’s Network.

University Prep remains an applicant but is no longer in the running after a DPS review found that its plans did not meet the requirements of a court order dictating how English language learners must be educated.

Before that development, University Prep CEO David Singer in an interview with Chalkbeat voiced concerns about how DPS is navigating the operator/authorizer conflict.

“There needs to be a level playing field where families can engage in a process that is not biased in one direction or another,” Singer said. “The process doesn’t feel like it’s in the right place yet.”

STRIVE was more pointed — and specific. Dani Morello, STRIVE’s outreach and engagement manager in far northeast Denver, said in written testimony at a school board meeting last month that the district being “both an authorizer and a restart competitor has been challenging and confusing.”

She said a lack of clear messaging has “led to the narrative within the school community that this process is a choice between applicants looking to change the school and those looking to keep it the same — which we find confusing and misrepresentative of all applicants.”

Morello also cited “differential access” to families and staff — including lists of family contact information made available to the district applicant long before the charter applicants.

STRIVE sees the conflict most evident in the decision to allow DPS’s Office of Family and Community Engagement “to directly organize for the district applicant,” Morello said.

“While we believe this effort is well-intentioned, it has the consequence of parents experiencing messages from district staff in an official capacity speaking about only one applicant, which has exacerbated confusion among families,” she said.

Both district officials and Sara Gips Goodall, principal of McGlone and proposed leader of the Montbello Children’s Network, disputed the STRIVE criticisms.

Goodall said that DPS is not spearheading her school’s application, and that she is “100 percent sure that no parents have experienced a single message from district staff in an official capacity speaking about one applicant.”

Goodall said her team did community outreach early on to gauge interest and incorporate community input into its plan. She said STRIVE, which has been seeking to build support to open a school in the neighborhood for the past couple of years, has been targeting parents aggressively.

“This is also what makes me sad: I actually view University Prep and STRIVE as some of our partners,” Goodall said. “One reason I moved back to Denver (to help lead McGlone in turnaround efforts) is because I loved the idea that charter-public was a collaboration and not competition.”

Charter schools have “huge” advantages as school applicants, Goodall said, including network staff who have experience navigating the process.

“I’m writing those plans on the weekend at a coffee shop,” she said.

Chris Gibbons, CEO of STRIVE, said the school board testimony had nothing to do with McGlone, and that STRIVE’s concerns rest with the district’s management process.

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
Parents pick up their children at Amesse Elementary, one of two schools that will be restarted.

“I would want Sara to know that and anyone to know that,” Gibbons said. “The critique of the process is that charter applicants did not have access to information until (their letters of intent to apply) had been received” by DPS, while the district-run applicant had access earlier.

Boasberg also took issue with some of STRIVE’s claims. He said all Amesse applicants got the same list of family contact information at the same time.

“It is true that one of the applicants did begin to organize and do efforts in the Amesse community earlier,” he said. “But there is nothing that prohibits hard work here.”

Boasberg said DPS’s Office of Family and Community Engagement, or FACE, had “absolutely nothing” to do with the running the process. DPS created a public affairs team in the superintendent’s office this year to communicate with school communities, taking FACE, which has deep relationships with families in schools, out of that process.

Said Cordova: “The whole idea was to not have a process that seems like it’s rigged.”

Gibbons said that STRIVE in its testimony was making reference to district assistance in the early organizing. Boasberg acknowledged that FACE supported McGlone to some extent, including providing examples of engagement and helping with meeting setup.

Overall, Boasberg said DPS has worked diligently to build a wall separating school authorizing — overseen by Jennifer Holladay, executive director of DPS’s portfolio management team — and the school operating role led by Cordova, the deputy superintendent.

DPS also has developed policies meant to bring more clarity — and less politics — to decision-making. In the last two years, DPS has laid out specific criteria for closing schools and for awarding district buildings to schools.

“This is not a new conflict,” Boasberg said. “It’s been with us for some time. I do think we in Denver have been more thoughtful and more proactive than any other district in the country.”

DPS this year formed Community Review Boards for both restarts that will weigh applicants against the district’s building allocation criteria and make recommendations to Boasberg. The boards include parent members, community members, professional reviewers and facilitators.

Boasberg underscored how important that new step will be: “I am going to greatly respect the Community Review Board’s recommendation in making my recommendation,” he said.

How Denver navigates the operator/authorizer conflict bears watching, said Martin West, an associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“Legitimate questions can be raised about whether a school district can be even-handed in a competition where it is both a player and referee,” West said. “It wouldn’t necessarily require intentionality to create situations where the district-managed school has a big advantage.”

PHOTO: Greenlee
Students at Greenlee Elementary

The competition for restarting Greenlee Elementary is not nearly as heated as the one at Amesse.

The only charter school to apply was Wyoming-based PODER Academy, and DPS staff this week said its application did not meet the district’s quality standards. The school leader strongly objected to the recommendation that it not be approved.

The restart is all but certain to go to a team led by current Greenlee principal Reynolds, who is proposing a new program called the Center for Talent Development at Greenlee Elementary.

Reynolds’ application promises challenging standards-based instruction, a rich roster of electives and a teacher development pipeline through the University of Colorado Denver.

As Reynolds has emphasized to those doubting whether he should stay at the helm, he is just completing his second year at Greenlee and has seen some positive academic growth after adopting a plan celebrating student accomplishments and strengthening school culture.

Reynolds said he believes the district has approached the process appropriately.

“I’ve definitely had district support, but it’s also been very clear there is a separation between that and them being fair and equitable in the process,” he said.

DPS has been encouraging such entrepreneurial leadership in-house, including replicating successful district-run models in new locations. That deeper pool of district-sponsored applicants is likely a contributing factor to some of the tensions.

Boasberg said he was surprised no local charter network applied for the Greenlee restart, and acknowledged that a perception that Reynolds would prevail likely played a role.

Reflecting on that emotional meeting in the Greenlee Elementary staff room, Cordova said she knows firsthand what happens to communities when things don’t work out. She was part of the team that devised a previous turnaround plan at Greenlee that didn’t succeed.

Cordova emphasized that her primary responsibility as deputy superintendent is to “support and lead our reform efforts in our district-managed schools.”

A few school districts have either relinquished the school operator role or are moving in that direction. Although Denver has experimented with different governance structures — including giving district-run schools more autonomy in a budding “innovation zone” — that is not in the district’s future.

Boasberg said DPS can wear both its operator and authorizer hats.

“It’s absolutely imperative,” he said, “that we do both jobs very well.”

money matters

Why so negative? Colorado lawmakers seek to rebrand controversial tool that limits spending on schools

A student works at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers are tired of hearing about the “negative factor.”

So they changed its name — at least in statute.

Going forward, the tool that budget writers will use to spend down the state’s financial obligation to public schools to balance the state budget officially will go by its original name: the “budget stabilization factor.”

The change was made when lawmakers passed the state’s annual school funding bill earlier this month.

The negative factor “has been used as a pejorative,” said state Sen. Kevin Priola, the Henderson Republican who put forth the idea of the name change. “The budget is never perfect. But these are the economic realities we have to deal with.”

Some education funding advocates are rolling their eyes. The term, they say, has become so well known and accepted that any attempt to change it will be difficult.

“You can change the name, but the debt’s the same,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates for more school funding.

The negative factor — oh, sorry, we mean the budget stabilization factor — is just one part of a much larger and complex formula used to determine school funding.

The budget tool was first created in 2009 when state lawmakers were forced to slash the budget after the Great Recession.

School advocates knew they couldn’t escape the cuts the rest of the state was facing. So a team of lawmakers, lobbyists, superintendents and financial officers helped developed the tool.

Here’s how it works: After lawmakers determine how much funding schools should receive based on a formula developed in 1994, they compare that amount to available tax revenue. The difference is that year’s “stabilization factor.”

At the time the tool was created, the group wanted the cuts to be systematic — applied equally across all schools — and transparent. As part of the compromise, the state was required to track how much money it was withholding from schools.

In 2014, funding advocates sued the state, claiming the negative factor was unconstitutional. But the state Supreme Court disagreed.

Since then, Republican lawmakers have become more critical about the provision that requires them to track how much money the state isn’t giving schools. They argue that other state services such as roads, hospitals and parks all share a burden when it comes to balancing the budget.

Lawmakers have withheld about $5.8 billion from schools since the budget balancing tool was created. However, funding has slowly crept up each year, just not as fast as school leaders would hope.