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)

cause and effect

Trump’s proposed AmeriCorps cuts would trim .03 percent of the federal budget — but slash support at 11,000 schools

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
City Year corps member doing service in a ninth-grade algebra classroom at Denver’s North High School. From left: student Alaya Martinez, corps member Patrick Santino and student Dorian Medina.

From when the first students arrive until the last ones leave, eight young adults in white AmeriCorps T-shirts are a constant presence at Denver’s North High, a comprehensive high school where “Viking Pride” has not traditionally translated to academic success.

The corps members, part of a program called City Year, help run North’s social justice and writing clubs, hold kids accountable for their attendance and behavior, and team up with teachers to make math and literacy skills stick with ninth-graders.

All of that could vanish next year. President Donald Trump is set to propose slashing the AmeriCorps program from the federal budget, according to a document obtained by The New York Times. That would cost more than 11,000 schools support that they use to help students who’ve fallen behind, build playgrounds, and offer after-school programs.

On a recent morning, North High School Principal Scott Wolf watched a City Year corps member pull four struggling students out of an algebra classroom and into a hallway, where he sat with a whiteboard explaining how to identify the intersection points of two variable equations.

“A student in those classrooms, they may otherwise just be checked out, sitting there not knowing what to do,” Wolf said. “The corps members allow us to provide supports we could not otherwise offer our kids. Our students open up and can relate to them.”

AmeriCorps has been threatened before, but members and supporters have good reason to fear this time could be different. President Trump has promised significant cuts to government programs, and Republicans control Congress and can easily sign off on them.

The prospect of the elimination of federal funding has brought uncertainty to the 80,000 working AmeriCorps members and the schools and communities that rely on them. It has also mobilized the organization’s leadership and supporters to make their case to Congress that the relatively modest investment — just .03 percent of the federal budget — is worth it.

“We are prepared for this,” said Morris Price, vice president and executive director of City Year Denver, which works in nine city schools. “We have to make a case every year anyway. Now we have to make that case not just at the local level but at the congressional level, of the impact we have. We can’t get lazy. This reminds us of that.”

The proposed cuts target the Corporation for National and Community Service, a $1 billion-a-year agency that finances programs run by AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, a volunteer organization for people over 55.

About half of the agency’s grant funding goes to education-related work, officials said, making it a significant player in school improvement efforts across the country. Its programs include City Year, College Possible, Playworks, Citizen Schools, the National College Advising Corps and a school-based foster grandparent program through Senior Corps.

“We are lucky that for more than 50 years, successive administrations of both parties have engaged with this concept of national service,” said Samantha Jo Warfield, spokeswoman for the Corporation for National and Community Service. “We know the best solutions come from outside Washington where ordinary citizens are doing extraordinary things.”

That federal support is leveraged to raise money from other sources, including private foundations, school districts, universities and colleges, and corporations. The end result is an additional $1.25 billion — more than the federal contribution, according to the agency.

AmeriCorps, however, has long been in the sights of conservative budget hawks and those who don’t believe it’s the government’s business to subsidize public service. (Corps members are not volunteers. They receive a stipend to help with living expenses, health insurance, and another $5,800 after the completion of each year to pay for additional education or to help pay off student loans.)

Blue Engine teaching assistant Alexandra DiAddezio helps 10th-grade geometry students with a project.

In cities ranging from New York to Denver and Memphis to Detroit, roughly 3,000 City Year corps members work alongside teachers and school leaders in long-struggling, high-poverty schools.

At Denver’s Manual High School, which is trying to reinvent itself yet again after a series of reforms, City Year corps members are integrated into all aspects of school life, principal Nick Dawkins said.

In addition to logging 875 hours helping students with literacy and math this year, corps members have surprised teachers with coffee and donuts, served free breakfast to students, and played chess and Monopoly with kids during tutoring, Dawkins said.

Part of the philosophy of City Year is that corps members — 18 to 25 years old — are not far removed from school themselves, allowing them to forge stronger relationships.

“In a tighter budget picture, I would hate to see programs like this go away,” Dawkins said. “I just think they are great kids and are great for school culture.”

In some cities, the possibility of losing funding for programs is throwing plans into question.

In Memphis, the school district is piloting an after-school tutoring program launched through City Year. Now in two Memphis schools, it is designed to grow to five schools and 50 AmeriCorps members by next school year.

Project director Karmin-Tia Greer said it’s too soon to tell what gutting AmeriCorps would mean for students in Memphis. Currently, AmeriCorps provides about 25 percent of the project’s funding.

“We hope that Congress will continue to support AmeriCorps, which has shown to positively impact students and schools in a cost-effective way,” she said.

In New York City, home to the nation’s largest school district, more than 250 City Year corps members serve in 24 public schools with about 13,000 total students, officials said. AmeriCorps members have also served in the city’s community schools and through programs like Blue Engine, Harlem Children’s Zone, and Teach for America, whose corps members use stipends to help pay for their master’s degree programs.

Through another AmeriCorps program, Citizen Schools, 41 corps members act as teaching fellows in high-needs middle schools in Harlem and Brooklyn, where they also help mobilize community partners to volunteer, said Wendy Lee, executive director of Citizen Schools NY.

“Our entire operating model is based on having AmeriCorps service members in schools,” Lee said. If funding were cut, she said, “We’d either have to rethink staffing or rethink the way our model is delivered.”

As AmeriCorps staff and supporters make their case to Congress, they will point to results.

A 2015 study examining three years of educational outcomes in 22 cities found that schools that partner with City Year were up to three times more likely to improve on math and English assessments.

In Denver, three-quarters of the schools with City Year corps members have moved up in the city’s rating system. That includes North High School, where Wolf, the principal, credited City Year for helping with the turnaround.

Brittanyanne Cahill, 26, who is in her second year of City Year Denver service, reports similar progress at the Hill Campus of Arts and Science.

The suburban Atlanta native majored in special education in college, did a stint student teaching, signed on as a corps member at Hill last year and came back this year as a “senior corps member” mentoring first-year corps members and working with students.

“My eyes have been opened,” she said. “There is so much hardship. Schools around the country are not able to provide the support that all students need to succeed.”

Eric Gorski reported from Denver and Cassi Feldman reported from New York. Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman in Memphis contributed reporting.

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.