Sweeping changes to a bill that intended to overhaul the process of state takeover of failing schools today took away much of its punch.

The Senate Education Committee amended and passed House Bill 1638, 9-2, at its meeting today. It originally was written to establish “transformation zones” that would have allowed schools or groups of schools to try out innovative plans at schools with students consistently getting low test scores as an alternative to state takeover. The bill last month passed the House 66-31

But the bill now contains no mention of transformation zones and makes sure the Indiana State Board of Education would not be allowed to take control of an entire school district.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said the biggest changes were proposed in amendments by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. When they were included, it changed the entire focus.

“There’s not much left in this bill after this amendment,” Kruse said.

The bill still includes a prohibition against schools offering potential students or their families gifts with a significant monetary value. It also would grant struggling schools a “safe harbor” provision where they could get an extra year to show academic improvement before the state would intervene.

Technically, Rogers’ new amendment takes the place of one passed by the committee last week. Those changes remain.

They include:

  • It proposes cutting to four years the time schools with D or F grades get before the state can take the school over or intervene in other ways. Under the bill, that change was set to take effect in June. The amendment puts the shorter timeline off an extra year until June of 2016 to give school districts more time to prepare.
  • A provision in the bill requiring any decision by the state board to close a school to pass with a two-thirds majority was introduced. Before, the board  could decide to close low-scoring schools by a simple majority.
  • A provision in the bill allowing up to 10 percent of teachers at a school in state takeover to work without a valid teaching license also was removed from the bill.

Rogers argued before the committee last month that the state’s intervention efforts just weren’t showing enough improvement to be expanded. Most of the schools under state takeover were still getting F grades, she said.

Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said at the same March meeting that the bill was intended to move away from state takeover to more local control.

“The goal is not to be in the takeover business,” Behning said. “That’s the point of this bill — to get out of the takeover business to gives schools the opportunity to transform themselves.”

But Rogers wasn’t buying it. She wrote the amendments to make a “bad bill better,” she said.

The bill will next be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate.

Both Rogers and Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, serve on the appropriations committee. Even with the amendments, Stoops, who voted no today, said he isn’t sure how the next hearing will play out.

“I’m much happier with the bill, and I will be having another look at it in appropriations,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

The committee passed two other bills:

  • Freedom to teach. House Bill 1009 would allow any two teachers or a principal, superintendent or a combination apply for grants to create schools, districts or zones of schools. Those schools would get extra freedoms others don’t have to try out plans designed to raise student test scores and pay higher salaries to effective teachers. It passed the committee 7-4 and will next be heard in Senate Appropriations.
  • Safety DrillsHouse Bill 1414 would require schools to hold more safety drills. It passed committee 11-0.