Indiana

Teacher pay and pension changes, opposed by unions, are dead for now

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Protesters, led by teachers unions, demonstrate against changes to state law last year.

A highly controversial bill that would allow superintendents to pay some teachers more than others if they’re in hard-to-fill positions is dead, Republican leaders announced today.

House Bill 1004 never got a hearing in the Senate, and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said Republican leaders decided the bill had failed to win over teachers, who were skeptical that it would help fix shortages in high-need areas such as science and foreign language without hurting teachers in more general teaching jobs.

“The contents of the bill were offered with good intentions of supporting Hoosier teachers, but the effects of the bill have been misperceived by some teachers,” Kruse said in a statement. “As the General Assembly looks for ways to address the shortage of teachers in high-demand fields such as science, math and special education, we need to find solutions that can garner broad support in the teaching community and the legislature.”

The bill, which was vehemently opposed by the state’s two major teachers unions, narrowly passed the House earlier this month 57-42.

The bill would have allowed teachers with high-demand expertise to negotiate outside of the pay scales already negotiated by unions. It also would have offered teachers a choice in the type of pension they receive.

Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the bill’s two main concepts won’t see any further support in the Senate, but the flexibility for negotiating pay for teachers with special skills might still be revived.

Senate Bill 10, which includes similar language to House Bill 1004, is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday. It would also allow district leaders to adjust salaries without union approval.

The Senate bill is even more restrictive, and disliked by union supporters, than the one in the House. Both bills would require superintendents bring a written explanation to their local school boards when they decide to set a teacher’s pay beyond what is specified by the union contract. But the Senate bill would allow that presentation to occur in a private meeting if the board chose. The dead House Bill required the discussion to be held in public.

Rep. Bob Behning, House Education Committee chairman and author of House Bill 1004, said earlier today that he’s not sure what’s going to happen with Senate Bill 10 — but if it did move forward, the pay provision likely would be amended to be identical to that in House Bill 1004. Behning could not be reached Thursday evening for comment.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with Senate Bill 10,” Behning said. “I know there’s some language that Rep. (Jeff) Thompson wants to consider, and there’s some other language that Rep. (Tony) Cook wants to consider, so there’s several other things that we’re looking to do with that.”

Next steps might be tricky. If the House Education Committee passes Senate Bill 10, it goes to the full House for a vote. If the neither the education committee nor the full House amend the bill, it could be approved and sent straight to the governor.

If the bill is changed in any way, the Senate could demand a conference committee to work out the differences between the two versions. That could raise the likelihood that the Senate bill also might die without a vote.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said that although her members have hustled over the past couple weeks to call lawmakers and use social media to voice their opposition to the idea of paying some teachers extra beyond the union pay scale, she’s not ready to celebrate until Senate Bill 10 meets a similar fate.

“We don’t know that it’s gone until it’s really gone,” Meredith said. “Until the session is really over, you just don’t know what they’re going to do.”

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.