expanding reach

State Board of Ed: Expand free preschool to more (but not yet all) 4-year-olds

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

The Indiana State Board of Education today joined education advocates, lawmakers and the state’s next top education official in supporting an expansion of free preschool programs for low-income kids.

“Preschool, as all research has shown, gives our schoolchildren a leg up in their education,” said board member Gordon Hendry. “If we’re going to improve, if we’re going to have a significant impact on education in this state … we should expand the early education program.”

The state first launched a pilot program in 2015 that awards scholarships to Indiana’s neediest 4-year-olds to help them attend high-quality public and private preschools. But the popular program, supplemented by a city-supported version, only serves a fraction of kids who qualify. Fewer than half of the 4,200 poor families in Marion County who applied this year are expected to win preschool scholarships.

Board members today approved a resolution calling on the state legislature to expand the program to more poor kids, but they didn’t echo calls from some advocates that the program be expanded for all children. Some board members have said they’d like to see the state go further.

“The same people who question (preschool’s) importance are the ones paying for it for their own children,” said board member Vince Bertram, who was not present for the resolution approval today but supported the resolution in a meeting last month. “We know the results, we know years of research on early childhood education. I think this is a funding issue. We need to stop saying we are piloting this.”

A push to expand preschool to every four-year-old in the state took a hit last week when state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who had advocated for an ambitious universal free preschool program, lost her re-election bid to Republican Jennifer McCormick, a superintendent from Yorktown.

But McCormick also wants to see preschool expand — as long as priority goes to poor kids who need it most.

McCormick said at a recent debate in Fort Wayne that eventually she wants to have a universal access program by 2020, though her plan would grow the program more slowly than Ritz’s would.

The idea of expanding the pilot program has been gaining steam with major support from civic leaders, who presented their version of a preschool pilot expansion plan to lawmakers this past summer. Lawmakers eventually expressed support for the proposal so long as local philanthropic groups continue to contribute.

The current pilot program awards preschool scholarships to needy families using a lottery. The program is funded by the state and is supplemented in Indianapolis by a separate program that uses money from the city, businesses and private foundations. Both programs are in high demand.

The board today also passed a resolution supporting efforts to reduce the costs of textbooks and class materials for families. Ritz has already called for a $1,000 textbook tax credit, but McCormick has said she’s not sure whether any families should be getting a textbook tax break, as it could further reduce state revenue.

“This is something that we feel the legislature should give serious consideration to,” Hendry said. “(They should) explore programs that would limit or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for all parents and families.”

Indiana is one of eight states in the United States that charges families for textbooks and materials.

Rolling Back Protections

Colorado’s transgender students will still get to use the bathrooms they choose despite Trump’s order. Here’s why

Six-year-old Coy Mathis in 2013. The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that her Fountain school violated her civil rights when it denied her access to the girl's restroom.

Colorado students shouldn’t have to worry about new guidance from the Trump administration that rescinds federal protections for transgender students because of existing state law here.

Colorado lawmakers in 2008 passed a law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public places — including schools.

That law was put to the test in 2013 when a 6-year-old transgender student in Fountain was denied access to a girls’ restroom. The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that Eagleside Elementary School violated Coy Mathis’s rights to use the restroom that best aligned with her gender identity.

The ruling was considered a landmark victory for transgender rights in the state and elsewhere.

In 2016, the Obama administration attempted to shore up protections for transgender students under Title IX, the federal statute that since 1972 has outlined protections for students based on sex.

But a federal court blocked the U.S.Department of Education from enforcing schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice.

Now, the Trump administration is revoking those protections in a move announced Wednesday.

The result: protections for transgender students in some states, such as Colorado, but not in others. Thirty three states have no local laws protecting transgender students’ rights to use the restroom of their choice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — who reportedly urged Trump not to roll back the Obama-era protections — said in a statement the department was committed to protecting the rights of all students, but added the issue should be left to states and local school districts.

“Schools, communities, and families can find – and in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students,” she said. “We owe all students a commitment to ensure they have access to a learning environment that is free of discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

Civil rights groups were quick to criticize the new order.

“This is a serious attack by the Trump Administration on transgender students; opening them up to harassment, discrimination, and violence in their schools,” said One Colorado, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group. “No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at their school or college campus. Luckily, Colorado has been on the right side of this issue for years, by including sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination law, passed in 2008.”

Update: This post has been updated to include a comment from One Colorado.

Newcomers

Indianapolis Public Schools board votes tomorrow on a resolution to support undocumented students. We annotated it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The Indianapolis Public School board can’t protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. But it can do its best to reassure families that school is still safe.

The board will vote Thursday on a largely symbolic resolution to show support for undocumented students.

The move comes amid rising tensions over the Trump administration’s plans to crack down on undocumented immigrants. At recent meetings parents have spoken to the board about families’ fears, and teachers have struggled to reassure anxious students.

“We’ve heard concerns from a number of immigrant students and families,” said board president Mary Ann Sullivan. “We want to communicate our commitment to serving and supporting them in every way we can.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said that the district is already working to serve immigrant students.

“I don’t see it changing our work and what we do already,” he said. “This is the commissioners’ way, and the administration’s, of assuring families that we will continue to maintain the welcoming environment that we have.”

What follows is the full text of the resolution. We’ve annotated it with links to our past coverage and context. Click on the highlighted passages to read our annotations.

RESOLUTION NO. 7736 – February 23rd, 2017
REAFFIRMING THE COMMITMENT TO CREATING A SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL STUDENTS REGARDLESS OF IMMIGRATION STATUS

WHEREAS, Indianapolis Public Schools (“IPS”) is committed to creating a safe, supportive, and welcoming learning environment regardless of, among other things, race, religion, nationality, sexual identity, ability, or immigration status; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe (1982) recognized the injustice of placing discriminatory burdens on the basis of legal characteristics over which children have no control, and held it unconstitutional to deny a free, public education to children who are not legally admitted into the United States; and

WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners recognizes the tremendous value and diversity that immigrant students and families bring to the school district; and

WHEREAS, the Board approved the establishment of a Newcomer Program in April 2016 to provide additional academic and community supports to students and families that have recently immigrated to the United States; and

WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners, and every person in its employ, is committed to standing with, and supporting, all IPS students and families to the fullest extent possible while complying with all local, state, and federal law;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis, that to the extent permitted by applicable law:

  • IPS will remain a safe and welcoming place for all students and families regardless of their immigration status;
  • IPS policies against intimidation, bullying, or discrimination of any student, including those born outside of the United States or for whom English is a second language, will continue to be strictly enforced to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and respect;
  • IPS will continue to seek opportunities to increase and enhance programs and partnerships that support and assist immigrant students and families;
  • IPS employees shall continue to follow the policy and practice of not requiring social security numbers for any enrolled or enrolling student and will continue to refrain from inquiring about a student’s or parent’s immigration status;
  • As in the past, IPS employees will not collect or provide any information regarding a student’s (or his/her family’s) immigration status, except as legally required;
  • The Board supports U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that restricts enforcement actions by ICE officers and agents in or around schools, and reminds IPS employees that they shall not assist immigration enforcement efforts unless legally required and authorized to do so by the Superintendent.

The foregoing Resolution No. 7736 was passed by the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis this 23rd day of February, 2017.