Voucher schools don't get off the hook from ISTEP

A plan to allow private schools that accept students using tax-funded vouchers for tuition to skip ISTEP testing was dropped from a Senate bill today.

Senate Bill 322 releases private schools that participate in the voucher program from some regulations that came with the program. For instance, a lawyer for some of the schools said reporting information to the state about students using vouchers who also are learning English as a second language was unnecessary.

But the ISTEP proposal was at the center of the controversy over the bill. It would have allowed voucher schools to use any nationally-normed test, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, for state A to F accountability purposes, not just ISTEP.

That brought criticism from the Indiana State Teachers Association that voucher schools would get special treatment, and several public school advocates were lined up to testify against the bill at Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee. Even some Republicans, like Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said they opposed the ISTEP provision, preferring that all schools receiving state aid take the same test.

During discussion of the bill, author Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, offered an amendment stripping the ISTEP language, meaning private schools would still be required to take the state exam even if the bill passes. That defused much of the opposition, and the bill passed 8 to 3. It will be considered by the full Senate later this week.

Vouchers allow low- and middle-income families to redirect tax dollars meant for their child’s public school education to pay private school tuition.

Other developments involving education issues in the legislature Wednesday included:

An effort to kill CECI

During debate of House Bill 1319, which makes it easier for charter schools to rent or buy empty or underused public school buildings, Democrats offered an amendment that would have denied funding to the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

The center was created by Gov. Mike Pence in August, using $14 million in funding that was redirected from the Indiana Department of Education and other agencies. Pence said CECI would coordinate education policy among the state’s many agencies that deal with schools and workforce development. But state Superintendent Glenda Ritz dubbed it a power grab.

“What have the people of Indiana seen from this new bureaucracy?” Democratic leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said in a statement. “So far we have seen that they hired a bunch of high-priced bureaucrats and not much else.”

The amendment was defeated. A full House vote on House Bill 1319 is expected later this week.

Data security passes committee

Senate Bill 277, which would prohibit the sale, release or transfer of identifying student information outside of the state, passed the education committee 10-0. This bill is partly in response to fears of anti-Common Core activists that following the national standards could make student data more vulnerable. While some states using the Common Core have agreed to share testing and other data with the U.S. Department of Education, Indiana is not one of them. The bill seeks to assure personal data is not shared in the future.

Teacher Choice program gets OK

One of Gov. Mike Pence’s signature ideas, a fund for supplemental pay to help teachers who agree to teach in disadvantaged schools, passed the education committee 6-2.

Under Senate Bill 264, a teacher who changes jobs in order to teach in a public or charter school rated D or F could receive up to $10,000 a year in supplemental pay. The program would not begin until the legislature adds a line for it to the state budget and allocates money for it, which can’t happen before 2015. But the bill proposes setting aside $2.5 million for the program.

Author Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, said the goal is to entice talented teachers to work in the neediest schools. But critics say it’s unclear what happens to a teacher’s pay when the extra money runs out.