Bills on literacy, cell phones, sex ed, and civics are advancing in the Indiana Statehouse

A large tan stone building with a green dome roof is in the background with tall buildings in the foreground with cars in the street.
The Indiana Capitol building on in November 2023 in Indianapolis. (Elaine Cromie / Chalkbeat)

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The first half of the 2024 legislative session in Indiana has come to a close, and the dust is settling on the bills that cleared their original chamber.

Bills prioritizing reading instruction are again the top of lawmakers’ agenda and will likely become law, as the state tries to address stagnating reading scores. They build on lawmakers’ efforts last year to require instruction based on the science of reading in schools.

A bill allowing schools to ban cell phones from K-12 classrooms also advanced. But as the session has progressed, lawmakers have significantly altered other bills tackling absenteeism and behavior issues in schools, admitting these are tricky problems to solve.

Lawmakers have largely steered clear of controversial social-issue legislation that marked the last two legislative sessions. But bills on publicizing sex ed curriculum and further blurring the lines between public schools and religious instruction drew concerns.

The bills now head to the opposite chamber where they may have further amendments. The 2024 session must end by March 14.

Here are some of the key bills to watch in the second half of the session.

2024 bills addressing Indiana curriculum and instruction

Senate Bill 1 would tighten the state’s policy for holding back and remediating young children who don’t demonstrate reading skills. The most recent amendments to the bill would create a policy for parents to appeal a remediation recommendation. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 6 requires the Indiana Department of Education to identify older students who don’t read proficiently.

Senate Bill 50 would permit chaplains to serve in public schools as counselors providing secular support. An amendment to the bill allows them only to provide religious support if a parent or emancipated minor gives permission. House Bill 1137, meanwhile, requires principals to allow a student to leave for off-campus religious instruction at their parents’ request.

Senate Bill 287 would require schools to teach cursive, and directs the state department of education to develop an internet safety curriculum, while House Bill 1243 would establish a computer science curriculum requirement.

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Senate Bill 128 would require schools to seek school board approval for their sex ed curriculum, and publicize the materials plus information about who teaches the courses and when.

House Bill 1137, along with Senate Bill 211, would establish a civics seal and expand civics education to the youngest grades.

House Bill 1073 would require schools to install video cameras in special education classrooms, and allow parents to review recordings in certain situations.

These bills target cell phones, mental health, intruders

Senate Bill 211, along with House Bill 1380, would define charter school corporations as a collection of charter schools operated by a single organizer — a change that raised concerns about financial transparency following last month’s federal indictment of former virtual charter officials.

Senate Bill 185 would allow schools to adopt policies banning cell phones from the classroom, though the policies must include exceptions for emergencies, health needs, and cell phone use at the direction of a teacher or under an individualized education program.

Senate Bill 282 originally laid out preventive and punitive measures schools could use to address truancy, but the bill was amended to focus only on preventive measures in elementary schools while a summer study committee considers how to improve older students’ attendance.

Senate Bill 214 would require schools to post links to mental health resources for students, and Senate Bill 141 would require counselors to spend a certain amount of time providing services to students.

House Bill 1104 lays out requirements for schools’ armed intruder drills, including that students can’t be subject to drills that include sensory components.

Funding bills could affect referendum revenue

Though 2024 is not a budget year, several bills moved forward that could affect funding for schools and students.

House Bill 1001 would allow students to use Career Scholarship Accounts to obtain their drivers’ licenses. It will also expand the uses for two kinds of college scholarships, allowing students to put them toward career training.

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House Bill 1376 restricts school referendums to general elections or municipal elections only.

House Bill 1380 includes a number of potential funding changes.

  • It would prohibit schools from charging a fee for transfer students.
  • It would expand the Indiana Learns program that gives students up to $1,000 for tutoring beyond 2026.
  • It would require that Innovation Network schools receive 100% of their state tuition support dollars and prohibits school districts from charging them for goods and services if that amount is more than the charter receives in revenue from non-referendum operating fund property taxes.

Senate Bill 270 would clarify that schools must close underutilized buildings and make them available to charter schools for $1.

Some higher education bills take aim at Indiana’s universities

Many of the bills aimed at higher education this year would assert more legislative control over the state’s colleges and universities.

Senate Bill 48 originally would have required colleges to compile information about jobs and pay related to their degrees. But when colleges reported that they already have much of this information, lawmakers amended the bill to require schools to prominently post links to it instead.

Senate Bill 8 would require all high schools to offer the College Core. It would also require colleges and universities to explore the possibilities of conferring associate degrees and offering three-year degree programs.

Senate Bill 202 includes many changes to colleges’ boards, tenure, and diversity policies.

It would prohibit colleges from offering tenure to faculty who have failed to support a culture of “free inquiry,” and create complaint procedures aimed at faculty who have shared political opinions unrelated to their academic discipline.

House Bill 1002 codifies a definition of antisemitism and prohibits religious discrimination at the state’s schools.

Deregulation bills focus on child care, youth employment

Senate Bill 2 removes several child care regulations and makes employees of childcare centers eligible for childcare subsidies.

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Senate Bill 147 also offers tax exemptions for for-profit childcare operators, as well as businesses that provide on-site childcare to employees.

House Bill 1093 is not strictly an education bill, but would relax regulations on when teenagers are allowed to work.

The 2024 bills that didn’t make it, but might in 2025

Several bills that didn’t pass this year offer a clue into what lawmakers might tackle during next year’s budget session and during summer study committees.

House Bill 1219 sought to create a mastery-based education pilot program, and along with Senate Bill 165, measure the educational time that students must receive in minutes instead of days.

Senate Bill 255 would have dramatically expanded Indiana’s choice program and allow families to choose where they would spend state dollars to create customized programs. The bill was heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee, with chair Sen. Ryan Mishler saying it would return next year.

House Bill 1262 originally laid out several punitive measures schools could take to address student behavior. The bill passed the House education committee with lawmakers promising to amend the bill to send the issue for further study instead. But it died on the House floor after a disagreement over what kind of committee should study the issue.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that charter schools would not be charged for goods and services if the cost exceeds the amount they receive in non-referendum operating fund property taxes in House Bill 1380.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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