Indiana House moves to require the state to explain how schools receive federal aid

A bill moving to the Senate could force more transparency around how Indiana doles out federal aid for the state’s most vulnerable students.

House Bill 1330, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would require, among other things, that the Indiana Department of Education make available to schools and districts the formula and data they use to calculate federal poverty aid. It passed the full House 83-11 today and moves next to the Senate.

The question of how aid is calculated surfaced when the U.S. Department of Education said it would reveal how funds were allocated to charter schools, some of which reported in 2015 receiving much less than in prior years.

“I do believe, in terms of that distribution … the parents are taxpayers, these children deserve services,” Behning said. “(Funding) should flow fairly through as the federal government allows it.”

Carey Dahncke, the director of Christel House Academies, said the cuts in his schools’ Title I funding meant jobs went unfilled and kids, especially English-language learners, didn’t receive the support they needed. Dahncke said he was pleased that the bill passed.

“The additional transparency will help schools understand how the (Indiana Department of Education) is calculating these grants,” Dahncke said in an email. “When there is a perceived discrepancy in funding allocations, both the school and Department should now be able to zero in on the problem much quicker.”

The House also passed two bills today addressing major education policy issues the state has debated over the past year.

House Bill 1219, which would make a fix to state law to allow more students to receive high school diplomas that they’ve been blocked from receiving, passed the House 93-0.

The bill, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require public high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn any diploma the state offers. Currently, schools may offer whichever diplomas they choose. Some schools do not offer a general diploma, a less-rigorous course of study that some argue is be a better fit for some students, such as those with special needs.  Most Indiana graduates earn the more rigorous Core 40 diploma.

The House also passed House Bill 1370, with the goal of protecting the state’s popular dual college credit program, which allows high school students to earn college credit, 93-0.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, authored the bill in response to a new requirement from Indiana’s college accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, for dual credit teachers earn more graduate school credits in the subjects they teach, even if they have master’s degrees. Almost 75 percent of existing dual credit teachers don’t meet that standard.

“Unfortunately this is a policy that has been put upon us that we have absolutely no control over,” McNamara said.

The bill would allow teachers with master’s degrees already teaching dual credit classes to get free or reduced cost tuition for college credits, up to 18 credit hours per person. The new rules say teachers must either have master’s degrees or 18 graduate credit hours in their subject areas to teach the classes. Indiana could have until 2022 to comply with changes if it gets a waiver from the commission.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said he supported the bill and its plan to continue opportunities for students to earn college credit.

“We have a situation that has been handed to us by a higher authority that’s going to cause great problems for the dual credit program,” Smith said. “It’s a good program, it should not be destroyed.”

The House and Senate also passed five more education bills today, which move ahead to the opposite chamber next week.

  • Teacher pay. Senate Bill 10, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, was altered slightly from when it was introduced. The latest version of the bill would allow districts to give teachers extra pay, outside of union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements, if they are in high-need positions or have extra education. The bill is strongly opposed by teachers unions. It passed the Senate in a tight vote, 26-24.
  • Teacher career pathways. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also allow teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” to be eligible for salary raises. Right now they are not allowed to earn raises. The extra pay is not open to union negotiation. The bill passed the House 78-17.
  • Teacher scholarships. House Bill 1034, authored by Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, would make technical changes to the minority teacher scholarship and change its name in honor of the of former state Rep. William A. Crawford from Indianapolis who died last year. The bill passed the House 95-0.
  • Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to reset the accountability clock for schools that convert to become Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. Currently, schools with six consecutive years of F-grades can be taken over the state. In 2017, the timeline will be shortened to four years. The bill passed the House 86-8.
  • Minority student teaching stipend. House Bill 1179, authored by Rep. Donna Harris, D-East Chicago, would let students from underrepresented ethnic groups that are pursuing degrees to become school administrators receive a stipend from the minority student teaching fund. The bill passed the House 93-0.