Getting an early start

Indiana House speaker calls for a big expansion of preschool support

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, (right) and Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, take the oath of office along with the rest of the House members during the annual Organization Day session to officially begin the 2017 legislative session.

More poor families who want help sending their children to preschool could have reason to rejoice next year.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma today announced that expanding preschool tuition scholarships would be one of his top priorities for the coming legislative session.

Other education priorities include a push to shift education dollars toward classroom expenses and away from school administrative and support services.

“We need to find a way to concentrate our education dollars in the classroom, where they are most effective with highly motivated teachers of high quality,” said Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican.

Bosma made education one of the centerpieces of his acceptance speech after being re-elected House speaker this afternoon during the General Assembly’s annual Organization Day. Lawmakers met for a short session to choose leaders and adopt basic rules before their work formally begins in January.

On preschool, Bosma called for expanding the preschool tuition vouchers that the state began as a pilot program in 2014. That $10 million program serves 1,585 kids in five counties, including Marion County, but demand for the program far exceeds availability.

Bosma is not alone in embracing the preschool expansion. Both the incoming governor, Eric Holcomb, the Indiana State Board of Education and incoming state schools superintendent, Jennifer McCormick, have called for more kids to receive the free service.

That’s a change from a few years ago when Gov. Mike Pence had to make a hard push to convince skeptical fellow Republicans to support state-funded preschool programs. This year, Holcomb favors a slow, deliberate expansion to a few counties at a time but Bosma said he believes the benefits of preschool are proven and he wants to move faster.

“I’d like to double or triple the program,” he said. “I don’t need to be convinced. I’ve seen it first hand and many others have. Not everyone is of the same option, and we do have fiscal constraints in the coming session that are very real.”

Democratic House leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said his party also wants a faster expansion.

“I don’t really understand the hesitancy,” he said. “This state has been tiptoeing over hot coals on its way to pre-K. Let’s get it to the kids who need it. There are kids who need it in every county in Indiana.”

Bosma did not offer details on his claim that Indiana schools spend too much on administrative and support spending, nor did he outline any ideas for what changes should occur, saying lawmakers would figure that out during the session.

If there is money to shift, he said he wanted it to go to teachers to help make the profession more attractive to top college graduates.

“We need to continue to find ways to treat teaches as faculty rather than factory workers,” he said. “We’ve made progress on this but we need to do more. We need to free them from regulatory burdens and bureaucratic control to do the job they desire to do.”

Pelath said he wasn’t sure Bosma was right that spending on non-classroom supports was out of line, but he endorsed the need to pay teachers more.

“That requires careful analysis after which there could be some differences in interpretation,” he said. “But unambiguously we have to make sure teachers are fairly compensated for the market-based reason that you have to attract very good people to the profession.”

STEM in Colorado

Colorado lawmakers are stepping in to help prepare students for the state’s booming tech sector

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Northglenn High School who are studying biomedical science work on an assignment. The class is part of the school's STEM offerings.

More Colorado students could be building smartphone apps by the end of next school year.

In an effort to prepare students for the state’s booming technology job market, lawmakers are considering three bills that would beef up access to computer science classes and provide students with new credentials after they leave high school.

A Chalkbeat analysis last year found that only about two out of every seven students in Colorado have access to courses in STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and math.

The bipartisan bills could change that, increasing access to computer science courses for the state’s black, Latino and rural students, and — for the first time — begin to define what a quality STEM program is.

The first bill scheduled to be debated by the House Education Committee on Monday would require schools to include technology in lessons alongside traditional subjects, such as English and civics.

It would also require the education department to create lessons to help educators teach computer science as a standalone course, and set up a $500,000 grant program to help train them.

“Kids need to be up to speed on these things in order to function in the current marketplace,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat. “The more they’re attuned to the technology of the times — all the better. It will help them in college and getting their job and careers.”

The technology sector is the fastest growing in Colorado. There are an estimated 13,517 open computing jobs in the state, according to Colorado Succeeds, an education reform advocacy group that represents the state’s business community.

Some states have already made the shift to include technology in their learning standards. In Arkansas, which made the change in 2015, officials say the new standards have already started to break down stereotypes about who can do computer science.

“What we’re trying to do is to make computer science a normal part of their academic lives,” said Anthony Owen, the state director for computer science education in Arkansas. “When we make it normal for everyone, it’s abnormal for no one.”

A second bill under consideration in Colorado would make mostly technical changes to the state’s new P-Tech schools, a model that mirrors a New York City school that partners with IBM to give students work experience and a path to an associate’s degree while in high school.

The model allows students to stay in high school for up to six years — which has caused schools that house P-Tech programs to worry about their graduation rates.

House Bill 1194 would change the way the state calculates graduation rates to avoid penalizing schools that have P-Tech students enrolled for an extra two years.

The third bill, House Bill 1201, would create a special kind of diploma that shows colleges and employers that its holder is proficient in STEM subjects. To get the diploma, students would have to take a variety of STEM classes, earn high marks on standardized math exams, and demonstrate their science skills through a special project they complete their senior year.

“I want to make sure, across Colorado, that we have clear expectations and that they’re equitable expectations,” said Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “All of our schools are doing a good job preparing our kids, but I want to be specific in terms of what our colleges and workforce is seeking in our graduates.”

The bill, however, stops short of defining what coursework students must complete. Local schools will decide that. That was important to Jess Buller, the principal of West Grand’s K-8 school who helped write the bill. He noted that different schools and districts offer different STEM courses.

“We want that STEM endorsement to be that sign of distinction, that a student completed a program and does not need the remedial work that might be required for other students,” Buller said. “The bill is specific enough, but flexible enough.”

Morgan Kempf, the STEM science specialist for Pueblo City Schools, said she is excited to offer such a credential.

In the absence of a special diploma, Pueblo Central High School, the city’s STEM school, has sought outside accreditation to give weight to its STEM courses. The school has also started handing out school letters, usually a tradition reserved for varsity athletes, to exceptional STEM students.

“It’s an extra stamp of approval that recognizes and appreciates what they’re doing and at the level of rigor they’re doing it at,” Kempf said. “That stamp of approval lets students and potential employers know they’re meeting expectations.”

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.