Early Childhood

Kenley: Costs may scuttle most of Pence's 2014 education agenda

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Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Luke Kenley

Luke Kenley, the powerful chairman of the Indiana Senate’s appropriations committee, said Wednesday he doubts potentially costly proposals from Gov. Mike Pence to offer preschool tuition vouchers to low income families, boost charter schools or aid teacher innovation can be enacted before 2015.

“I don’t see us doing anything in 2014 on these issues,” Kenley, R-Indianapolis, said in an interview. “If you want to have a fair sense of fiscal discipline and evaluate any program, it has to be done in the context of the rest of the budget.”

Kenley said all education priorities — not just Pence’s proposals but also annual costs like aid to school districts — should be weighed against each other at the same time and compared to the available revenue. Then choices could be made about what matters most when everything could be judged equally.

The time for that is the next budget year, 2015, unless Pence wants to also propose a way to fund his education plans, Kenley said.

“We can’t start down the path of funding special projects unless someone wants to come up with a tax or a special revenue source,” he said.

At a speech in Corydon Tuesday, Pence called for preschool vouchers for 40,000 low income children, a salary stipend for teachers who change jobs to work in troubled schools, grants for teacher innovation and state-paid reimbursement to teachers for classroom supplies.

Pence does not want to wait, especially on prekindergarten programs, according to a spokeswoman.

“Governor Pence and his staff are continuing the important conversation that started in the last legislative session regarding the design of a pre-K strategy that will serve the most vulnerable Hoosier students, and we want to get those programs started as soon as possible,” Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said.  “Authorizing pre-K in the coming session will allow enough lead time for programs to be in place for the 2015-2016 school year.”

In Tuesday’s speech, Pence also endorsed an expansion of drop out recovery charter schools, a controversial issue that Kenley spearheaded an effort to address earlier this year. Charter schools for dropouts, often adults, run by Goodwill Industries and Christel House Academies have earned accolades for helping students finish school and get jobs but plans for a big expansion of the schools around the state worried lawmakers.

As an interim solution, Kenley and other lawmakers engineered a set aside of cash for the existing schools but also capped their growth until there was further study of how to pay for them.

With an expansion of dropout recovery schools added to his other education proposals, potential new costs to the state for Pence’s total education agenda could easily exceed $100 million if his ideas were all enacted. Because Indiana’s biennial budget is forged by the legislature in odd-numbered years, new programs created in even-year “short” sessions may have to wait a year for implementation until funding is allocated in the next budget.

The Senate has been a stumbling block over the fiscal impact of education bills in the past, notably earlier this year when a preschool pilot program, backed by the House, was redesigned and scaled down. Indiana’s most recent tax collections also came in under projections, prompting Pence to order the state plane sold and instituting cuts in higher education and raising questions about the viability of new spending programs.

Pence acknowledged Tuesday that his education agenda was a starting point for talks with the legislature, but emphasized the state was fiscally strong overall and he believed creative solutions could be found to put programs in place in 2014. He also told reporters afterwards he had personally briefed Kenley on his education plans.

Kenley said when he and the governor spoke, they agreed more often about education than not.

“We had a good conversation,” he said. “I agreed with him these are all worthwhile things to take a look at. I think he’s trying to think real hard about what the next steps are in education.”



Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Play nice

How can Michigan schools stop skinned knees and conflict? Use playtime to teach students kindness

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn
Macomb Montessori kindergartner London Comer plays with a ball during a Playworks session at her school.

Kindergartners play four square, jump rope and line up in two rows with outstretched arms to bump a ball during recess. What’s unusual is that the four- and five-year-olds don’t fight over balls or toys, and when one child gets upset and crosses her arms, a fifth-grade helper comes over to talk to her.

This is a different picture from last spring, when the students at the Macomb Montessori school in Warren played during recess on a parking lot outside. The skinned knees and broken equipment were piling up, and school administrators knew something needed to change.

“Recess was pretty chaotic, and it wasn’t very safe,” Principal Ashley Ogonowski said.

The school brought in Playworks, a national nonprofit that uses playtime to teach students how to peacefully and respectfully work together to settle disagreements — also known as social emotional learning, said Angela Rogensues the executive director of the Michigan Playworks branch.

Ogonowski said the change she has seen in her students has been huge. Kids are getting hurt less, and teachers have said they have fewer classroom behavior problems.

The program teaches better behavior through physical activity. Games focus on cooperation, not winners and losers. When tensions rise on the playground, kids are encouraged to “rock, paper, scissors” over conflicts.

Playworks is adamant that their coaches are not physical education teachers, nor are their 30-45 minute structured play periods considered gym class. But the reality is that in schools without them, Playworks is the closest many kids come to receiving physical education.

Macomb Montessori does not have a regular gym teacher, a problem shared by schools across the state and nearly half of the schools in the main Detroit district, and a symptom of a disinvestment in physical education statewide. In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified.

But with Playworks, the 210 elementary-aged children at the school have a daily recess and a weekly class game time lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Another benefit of the program is the chance to build leadership skills with upper elementary students chosen to be junior coaches. Shy kids are picked, as are natural leaders who might be using their talents to stir up trouble.

“I made it because I’m really good with kids. I’m nice and kind and I really like the kids,” Samerah Gentry, a fifth-grader and junior coach said. “I’m gaining energy and I’m having fun.”

Research shows that students are benefitting from both the conflict resolution tools and the junior coach program.

“The program model is really solid and there’s so much structure in place, I can’t really think of any drawbacks,” Principal Ogonowski said.

The program, however, is not free.  

Part of the cost is handled on the Playworks side through grants, but schools are expected to “have some skin in the game,” Rogenesus said. The program at Macomb Montessori costs between $60,000 and $65,000, but poor schools can receive a 50 percent subsidy.

The cost hasn’t prevented eight Detroit district schools from paying for the program. Rogenesus said she is talking with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about putting the program in even more schools next year. He also identified Playworks as one organization that could be brought in to run after-school programs at a time when he’s rethinking district partnerships.

Part of Playworks’ mission is to work together with schools, even if they already have gym and recess in place or plan to hire a physical education teacher.

“PE is a necessary part of their education in the same way social-emotional learning is a necessary part of that education,” she said.