2017 legislative session

What Indiana education bills should you be watching? Testing, teacher pay and school choice.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

In a new year, with a new governor and a new state superintendent, Indiana’s 2017 legislative session hasn’t exactly been the hotbed of activity around education policy that it was last year, when two major education bills had already been signed into law.

But that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t consider bills that propose big changes to testing, teacher pay, accountability and vouchers if they move forward.

Below, we highlight the education bills we’re paying the most attention to this year, as well as links to stories that can help you get up to speed.

Lawmakers have filed more than 100 bills on education. You can find the entire bill list for the 2017 session here, and see which bills have been assigned to education committees on the House and Senate committee websites.

TESTING

ISTEP replacement: Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored a proposal that would create a new state testing system called “ILEARN,” which stands for “Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network.” The proposal would be similar to recommendations released late last year by a committee of lawmakers and educators charged with helping create a new test, but it does not include the suggestion to eliminate tieing test scores to teacher evaluations. Read more about “ILEARN” here, and find all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here. (House Bill 1003)

PRESCHOOL

Expand preschool to 10 counties: These bills propose expanding the state’s preschool program from five to 10 counties. The Senate version asks for $20 million per year over the next two years to do so. The House bill would also loosen the income requirements so families of more means can participate. Preschool providers could also apply for a grant — with a philanthropic match — to expand their program’s capacity or establish a program under the House plan. Read more about the preschool proposals here. (House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 276)

Expand preschool to any county: Authored by Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, This bill removes the requirement that the state’s preschool program be limited to just five counties. It opens it up so preschool providers who meet the quality standards in any county can be eligible for grants. Republican leaders in the statehouse have already said they are opposed to this kind of large-scale expansion of the state’s preschool program. (House Bill 1614)

SCHOOL CHOICE

Taking classes outside public schools: A proposed “course access” program would allow students to choose certain classes to take outside their public school. Then, those course providers would get a cut of a school or district’s state funding. Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, authored the bill. The program would represent a new school choice strategy in Indiana. Learn more about the program here. (House Bill 1007)

Charter school renewal and closure: This bill, authored by Behning, would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal, as well as other changes, could have implications for Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies. Read more about Hoosier Academies here, and online schools in our series. (House Bill 1382)

Education savings accounts: Authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, respectively, these bills would establish a program that would allow parents more access to their child’s state education funding, known as an education savings account. Parents or guardians could use the money for school tuition or other educational expenses. The House bill would open up the accounts, where 100 percent of a student’s share of state tuition aid would be deposited, to any student, whereas the Senate version would limit it to students with special needs. Read more about education savings accounts here and here. (House Bill 1591 and Senate Bill 534)

SCHOOL FUNDING

Changes to school budgets: authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, and Rep. Tim Brown, R- Crawfordsville, would collapse several pools of money schools and districts use into three at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year: education, operations and debt service. Cook says the move gives schools more flexibility to control how they spend money. Learn more about how the budget proposal would work here. (House Bill 1009)

Eliminating textbook fees: This bill would get rid of textbook fees for public school families. (House Bill 1568)

TEACHING

Teacher pay and advanced degrees: House Bill 1081 would allow years of experience and extra education to count for a larger share of the calculation that determines a teacher’s salary raise. Similarly, House Bill 1630 suggests salary increases may be provided for master’s or doctoral degrees, and Senate Bill 498 makes a correction that allows advanced degrees to count for more than one year of salary increases. (House Bill 1081, House Bill 1630 and Senate Bill 498)

Elementary school teacher licenses: This bill would require elementary school teachers to specialize in a specific subject area after June 30, 2021, in order to get a teaching license. The state would no longer be allowed to grant a general education elementary school teaching license. (House Bill 1383)

Bonuses for AP and IB teachers: Authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, this bill would give yearly bonuses to teachers of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes if their students pass the associated tests. (House Bill 1389)

Teacher induction program: This proposal, offered by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would create a program to support new teachers, principals and superintendents that would be considered a pilot until 2027. If passed, the bill would also require lawmakers to study whether teachers should have to participate in such a program before receiving their licenses. (House Bill 1449)

Teacher tax credits: The House bill would give licensed K-12 teachers a state income tax credit, whereas the Senate version proposes the credit for K-12 private school teachers. (House Bill 1638 and Senate Bill 284)

DISCIPLINE

Rationale for suspensions and expulsions: This bill would prohibit a school from suspending or expelling a student unless the principal determines that the suspension or expulsion would “substantially” reduce disruption to learning or prevent physical injury. The bill would also require schools to explain the decision-making behind the length of a suspension or expulsion to parents and offer students support during a suspension to complete make-up work. (Senate Bill 274)

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Developmental delay: The bills would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5 and make developmental delay an official disability category so that children who receive that diagnosis can receive special education grants. Learn more about the issue here. (Senate Bill 432 and Senate Bill 475)

MISCELLANEOUS

Appointing the state superintendent: The bills would make the state superintendent a governor-appointed position after 2021. Both versions remove a requirement that the state superintendent candidate must live in Indiana for at least two years. Read more about this plan, a priority outlined by Gov. Eric Holcomb, here. (House Bill 1005Senate Bill 422, Senate Bill 179)

High school graduation rate and diplomas: This bill would alter the graduation rate calculation so that students who drop out would only count in a school’s rate if they attended that school for at least 90 percent of the school year. The bill also requires the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades. Read more about Indiana’s debates over diplomas here and here. (House Bill 1384)

Dual language immersion: The bill would continue the state’s dual language immersion pilot program, but it makes a change so that schools couldn’t receive a grant of more than $25,000. Previously, some schools received much larger grants. Check out more Chalkbeat reporting on dual language and English-learners. (House Bill 1385)

Competency-based learning: This bill would provide grants for five schools or districts that create a “competency-based” program, which means teachers allow students to move on to more difficult subject matter once they can show they have mastered previous concepts or skills, regardless of time or pace. (House Bill 1386)

Changes to ISTEP, A-F, vouchers: This bill makes a number of unrelated changes. It would provide a tax credit to licensed teachers; replace ISTEP with a test to be determined by the state board of education; allow any student age 5 to 22 to receive a voucher; eliminate the state’s requirement to evaluate teachers annually; and alter Indiana’s accountability system so that it no longer uses letter grades. (House Bill 1590)

Out of school care programs: This bill would ask the state to provide grants to schools with before and after school programs for students in grades 5-8. Read more about after school program debates here. (Senate Bill 116)

Show me the money

Colorado Senate Republicans push charter school funding in annual school spending bill

Students at University Prep, a Denver Public Schools charter school, worked on classwork last winter. (Photo by Marc Piscoty)

An ongoing dispute over charter school funding in Colorado stole the spotlight Thursday as the Senate Education Committee deliberated a routine bill that divides state money among public schools.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, backed by his GOP colleagues, amended this year’s school finance legislation to include language that would require school districts to share revenue from locally-approved tax increases with charter schools.

The annual school finance bill takes how much money the state’s budget dedicates to education and sets an average amount per student. That money is then bundled for each of the state’s 178 school districts and state-authorized charter schools based on student enrollment and other factors.

Thursday’s charter school funding amendment is a carbon copy of Senate Bill 61, one of the most controversial education bills this session. The Senate previously approved the bill with bipartisan support. But House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, has not assigned the bill to a committee yet.

“I do want to continue to pressure and keep the narrative up,” Hill said as he introduced amendment.

Democrats on the committee, who also vigorously opposed the charter school bill, objected.

“I consider it a hijacking move,” said Colorado Springs state Sen. Mike Merrifield.

A bipartisan group of senators last year attempted a similar tactic. While requiring that charters get a cut of local tax increase revenue did not go through, smaller items on the charter school community’s wish list were incorporated into the overall funding bill.

House Democrats this year will likely strip away the language when they debate the bill.

State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, was not immediately available for comment. She’s the House sponsor of this year’s school finance bill. Pettersen voted to kill similar charter school funding legislation last year at the sponsors’ request. But this year she has been working on a compromise that Republicans have said they’re open to discussing.

Senate Republicans on Thursday also approved an amendment that would prevent the state’s education funding shortfall from growing this year.

The amendment takes $9.6 million from a school health professionals grant program, $16.3 million from an affordable housing program and about $22.8 million from the state education fund and gives it to schools.

Democrats on the Senate committee opposed the changes. They said the money, especially for school health professionals was important.

“Counseling, health programs, are all essentials,” said state Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat. “It’s not icing on the cake.”

The governor’s office also is likely to push back on that amendment. The governor’s office lobbied heavily during the budget debate for the $16.3 million for affordable housing.

Hill said that he tried to identify sources of revenue that were increases to current programs or new programs so that no department would face cuts.

No one will be fired with these changes, he said.

“I want to send a message that we’ll do everything in our power to prioritize school funding and not increase the negative factor,” he said referring to the state’s school funding shortfall.

Hill’s amendment means schools will receive an additional $57 per student, according to a legislative analyst.

While Thursday’s hearing was a crucial step in finalizing funding for schools, the conversation is far from over. Some observers don’t expect resolution until the last days of the session.

The state’s budget is not yet complete, although budget writers took a critical final step as the education committee was meeting. The death of a transportation bill died would allow lawmakers to some money away from schools and spend it on roads, but that is unlikely. Negotiations on a compromise on a bill to save rural hospitals, which also includes money for roads and schools, are ongoing.

And late Thursday, the state budget committee approved a technical change to the budget that could free up even more money for schools after learning cuts to personal property taxes that help pay for schools were not as severe.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that Rep. Brittany Pettersen voted against a bill to equalize charter school funding. She has not voted on the bill yet. She voted against a similar measure last year. 

taking initiative

Parents, students press Aurora school district to pass resolution assuring safety of immigrant students

A reading lesson this spring at an Aurora family resource center. (Kathryn Scott, The Denver Post).

As a mother of four U.S.-born schoolchildren, but being in the country illegally herself, Arely worries that immigration agents might pick her up while she is taking her kids to school one day.

But what worries her more is that her children could be picking up on her fears — and that it might hurt their focus in school. She’s also concerned for those immigrant students who could be at risk for deportation.

“There are a lot of us who are looking for the security or reassurance from the district — most of all, that our children will be safe,” said Arely, who spoke on the condition that her full name not be used because of her immigration status.

Dozens of Aurora students and parents, including Arely, are pressing the school board of Aurora Public Schools to adopt a proposed resolution for “safe and inclusive” schools that they say would help. While the Denver school board adopted a similar resolution in February, their peers in Aurora have yet to act.

“Knowing that Aurora doesn’t yet have a resolution makes me feel insecure,” Arely said.

A district spokesman said in an email the resolution won’t be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, on Tuesday, but that it would be “part of the Board’s open dialogue.”

“Anytime the Board is contemplating a community request, the Board first openly discusses their interest in a public forum,” spokesman Corey Christiansen said. “If there is interest, the Board would decide to move forward at a future meeting to issue a statement.”

Two board members reached for comment Wednesday — Dan Jorgensen and Monica Colbert — both said they supported the resolution.

“I believe that not only do we have a legal obligation to serve all students, more importantly, we have a moral obligation to make sure that all of our students are in safe and inclusive environments,” Jorgensen said. “This resolution is about doing the right thing, including providing a public statement of support and directing reasonable action on behalf of all children in our schools.”

Colbert said not supporting the resolution would deny the strength of the district’s diversity.

“In a district like Aurora where our biggest strength is our diversity, for us not to adopt a resolution such as this would be not well serving of our students,” Colbert said.

The document presented by parents and students would direct the school district to ensure officials are not collecting information about the legal status of students or their families, that they keep schools safe for students and families, and that a memo the district sent to school leaders in February gets translated and made available to all families and all staff.

The memo outlines the procedures Aurora school leaders should follow if interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a school.

The resolution also calls for district officials to write a plan within 90 days for how to react if an immigration enforcement action prevents a parent from picking up a student from school.

The parents and students started sharing concerns at end of last year after President Trump’s election stoked fears in immigrant communities.

Working with RISE, a nonprofit that works with low-income parents to give them a voice in education issues, the parents and students researched other school district resolutions and worked on drafting their own.

“We didn’t want any words that seemed as if they were demanding,” Arely said. “We just want equality for our children.”

Anjali Ehujel, a 17-year-old senior at Aurora Central High School, said she has seen her friends suffering and worried a lot recently. The most important part of the resolution for her was making sure her fellow students were no longer so distracted.

“This is important because we all need education and we all have rights to get education,” Ehujel said.

Another student, Mu Cheet Cheet, a 14-year-old freshman at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, said she got involved because she saw other students at her school bullied and depressed as they were teased about the possibility of being deported.

“For refugees they would just watch because they didn’t know how to help,” Cheet said. “When I came here, I also wanted to feel safe.”

Cheet, who came to the country as a refugee from Thailand seven years ago, found that working on the resolution was one way she could help.

More than 82 percent of the Aurora district’s 41,000 students are students of color. The city and district are one of the most diverse in the state.

“We really hope APS approves this resolution given it’s the most diverse district in the state,” said Veronica Palmer, the executive director of RISE Colorado.

Here is the draft resolution:



FINAL Resolution to Keep APS Safe and Inclusive 4 21 17 (Text)