Future of Schools

These 22 education bills are still alive halfway through Indiana's 2016 legislative session

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

Gov. Mike Pence didn’t advertise this year’s legislative session as the “education session” as he did with last year’s, but issues affecting Indiana schools have still been front and center for state lawmakers.

Halfway through the legislative session, more than two dozen education policy bills are still alive or have been signed into law.

The bills that Pence signed last month were geared toward protecting teachers and schools from the sting of lower 2015 ISTEP test scores. The bills included one that barred the state from giving schools grades based on 2015 scores that were lower than their 2014 scores and a second bill that said teachers evaluations and reviews could not be affected by those scores. Both bills were fast-tracked to the governor last month.

Bills still making their way through the two legislative chambers include many that are focused on testing and teacher pay.

The House and Senate are both considering measures that could lead to major changes in the state’s standardized testing program. The bills would ask educators and policymakers to form panels to study alternatives to the ISTEP exam. The bill that originated in the House is the bolder of the two. The House bill would eliminate ISTEP completely in 2017 in favor of a different kind of test that would be determined by the panel.

Although the House and Senate testing bills take separate approaches, there is broad agreement among Republicans and Democrats that ISTEP, which was plagued by scoring and design problems in 2015, needs to be seriously altered after Indiana completes its current contract for the 2016 and 2017 tests with British testing company Pearson.

Both chambers also have bills that would authorize extra pay for teachers in high-demand areas, such as science, math or in other shortage areas identified by school districts. The bills emerged from debates last year over teacher hiring. Some districts, especially those in rural, urban and high-poverty areas, say they’ve had trouble finding qualified teachers.

The teacher pay bills in both chambers have generated opposition from teachers unions because they allow districts to negotiate directly with teachers instead of going through their unions. That tension in the statehouse has Democrats and union supporters on one side butting heads with education reform advocates and Republicans on the other.

Now that the session has reached the halfway point, House bills are bound for the Senate while the Senate bills head to the House.

For those following along at home, here’s a handy scorecard for what’s coming up:

BILLS MOVING TO THE HOUSE

Charter school data. Senate Bill 9, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would remove the requirement that charter schools report certain information to the state, such as student enrollment, students’ names and addresses and what school a student transferred from. The bill passed the Senate 48-0.

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 advanced degrees or graduate credits. The bill is strongly opposed by teachers unions. It passed the Senate in a tight vote, 26-24.

ISTEP panel. Senate Bill 63, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would create an 18-member panel of teachers, administrators and policymakers to examine alternatives to the ISTEP test and report back to the governor and Indiana General Assembly. The bill passed the Senate 49-0.

Cursive writing. Senate Bill 73, by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would require every school district and accredited private school to teach cursive handwriting. Similar bills passed the Senate in recent years, but not the House. The Senate passed the bill 30-18.

Various education issues. Senate Bill 93, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, has many provisions, including one that would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so lower-grade teachers can participate in a federal loan forgiveness programs for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require that testing companies hired to create future ISTEP exams return scores to the State Board of Education no later than July 1. Additionally, the sweeping bill would make it easier for teachers from other states to become licensed in Indiana. The bill passed the Senate 49-0.

Curricular materials. Senate Bill 96, authored by Kenley, gives school districts four years, instead of 3, on contracts to buy or lease curricular materials, such as textbooks. It passed the Senate 49-0.

Out-of-school learning fund. Senate Bill 251, authored by Kruse, would create a fund to give schools grants to pay for programs before and after school. The bill also creates an advisory board to make recommendations about the fund to the Indiana Department of Education. It passed the Senate 31-18.

Ethnic history. Senate Bill 268, by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, would require high schools to teach students the history of different racial and ethnic groups in U.S. History courses. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but was defeated in the House. The bill passed the Senate 41-9.

Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would allow school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. The bill passed the Senate 48-2.

Teacher grants. Senate Bill 328, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, would create grants for aspiring teachers who are studying subjects that are teacher shortage areas. Students studying to be speech therapists would also be eligible. The bill passed the Senate 49-0.

Voucher deadline. Senate Bill 334, authored by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, would extend the state’s deadline for private schools to accept students using tax-funded vouchers. The bill passed the Senate 40-9.

BILLS MOVING TO THE SENATE

Teacher scholarships. House Bill 1002, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would set up a system for aspiring teachers to get $7,500 per year towards four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. To be eligible, students would have to rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating classes. The bill passed the House 96-1.

Teacher pay and pensions. House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district deems hard to fill and make major changes to pension programs. The bill would also allow teachers to transfer teaching licenses from other states if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject areas they teach, at least a 3.0 college grade point average and pass Indiana’s teacher license subject tests. The bill passed the House 57-42.

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.

Minority student teaching stipend. House Bill 1179, authored by Rep. Donna Harris, D-East Chicago, would let students from underrepresented ethnic groups who are pursuing degrees to become school administrators receive a stipend from the minority student teaching fund. The bill passed the House 93-0.

Workplace Spanish. House Bill 1209, authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, would allow schools to recognize students who have passed certain Spanish language classes with a special designation on their high school transcripts. The bill passed the House 94-1.

High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require all public high schools to offer any diploma approved by the Indiana State Board of Education. It passed the House 93-0.

Federal funding. 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 used to calculate school federal poverty aid. It passed the House 83-11.

Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would set up partnerships between schools and universities for teachers in the state’s popular dual college credit program, which allows students to earn college credit while still in high school, to earn graduate credits for free or at a reduced rate. The bill is a response to a change in rules from the state’s accrediting body that says all dual credit teachers need master’s degrees or 18 graduate credit hours in the subjects they teach. It passed the House 93-0.

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 that 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.

ISTEP rescore. House Bill 1395, authored by Behning, would give the Indiana State Board of Education the power to hire an outside company to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test if decides that such a move is necessary. The bill would also set a get rid of the ISTEP testing program by July 2017 and create a committee to study new testing options and review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system. The bill passed the House 86-11.

Big speeches

Emanuel tries to shore up education legacy in final budget address

PHOTO: Elaine Chen/Chalkbeat
Rahm Emanuel at Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village, moments before he announced this year's $1 billion capital plan.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel choked up twice during his final budget address to Chicago’s City Council Wednesday morning: once when he talked about his wife, Amy Rule, and the other when he read aloud a letter from a John Marshall High School senior who lives on Chicago’s West Side.

The address highlighted millions he wants to spend to expand after-school programming, middle school mentoring, and a summer jobs initiative for Chicago teens. It also signaled loud and clear how Emanuel views his legacy: as the mayor who took the reins when the city faced a $600 million deficit and then righted Chicago’s fiscal ship, while pushing for the expansion of programs that serve public schools and children.

In the speech, he ticked off such accomplishments as expanding kindergarten citywide from a half- to a full-day, extending the city’s school day, increasing the graduation rate to a record 78.2 percent up from 57 percent when he took office in 2011, and paving the path for universal pre-kindergarten, though that initiative is still in the early stages.

“When you step back and look at the arc of what we’ve done in the past seven years, and take a wide lens view, from free pre-K to free community college, from Safe Passage to mentors to more tutors in our neighborhood libraries … at end of day, it is really no different than what Amy and I, or you and your partner, would do for your own children,” he said.

Emanuel, the former congressman and chief of staff for President Barack Obama who announced on the first day of school in September that he won’t be running for re-election, acknowledged that shoring up civic finances isn’t glitzy work — not like, say, plopping a major park in the middle of downtown, as his predecessor Richard M. Daley did by opening Millennium Park.

But, said Emanuel, “one thing I’ve learned in the past 24 years in politics is that they don’t build statues for people who restore fiscal stability.”

Outside of the longer school day and school year, the mayor stressed his work expanding programming for children — particularly teenagers — after school and in summers as an antidote to the city’s troubling violence that did not abate in his term. Amid a $10.7 billion budget plan that includes a chunk of new tax-increment finance dollars that will go toward schools, the new budget lays out $500,000 more funding for his signature Summer Jobs program, bringing projected total spending on that up to $18 million in 2019.

He also set aside $1 million for his wife’s Working on Womanhood mentoring program that currently serves 500 women and girls, $1 million more for the after-school program After School Matters, and more money for free dental services at Chicago Public Schools and trauma-informed therapy programs.

The mayor’s address had barely ended when the Chicago Teachers Union sent an email with the subject line “No victory lap for this failed mayor.” It pointed to blemishes on Emanuel’s education record, from closing 50 schools in 2013 to systemic failings in the city’s special education program — an issue that now has Chicago Public Schools under the watchful eye of a state monitor.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey called on the city’s next mayor to restore money to mental health clinics and social services, fund smaller class sizes, broaden a “sustainable schools” program that partners community agencies with languishing neighborhood schools, and invest in more social workers, psychologists, nurses, librarians, and teachers’ assistants.

In his address, Emanuel did not talk about some of the tough decisions the school district had to make during tough budget years, such as the school closings or widespread teacher layoffs that topped 2,000 that same year. 

He did, however, stress his philosophy that investments in children must extend beyond the typical school day. In the letter from the Marshall High School senior, the teen wrote that, until his freshman year of high school, “I never saw or met any males like me who lead successful lives.” The letter went on to praise the nonprofit Becoming A Man, a male mentoring program that has expanded among Chicago schools during Emanuel’s tenure.

The teen intends to attend Mississippi Valley State University next fall, the mayor said. When Emanuel pointed out the young man and his Becoming A Man program mentor in the City Council chambers, many in attendance gave them a standing ovation.

 

 

Schola Latina

With school board approval, new Detroit Latin School plans to enroll students as soon as next fall

Plans for the new Detroit Latin School involve renovating the former Brady Elementary School building on Detroit's west side.

Detroit students in grades 5 through 7 might start enrolling as soon as next fall in a new school focused on the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.

The new Detroit Latin School, which hopes to eventually serve students in grades K through 12, won approval from the Detroit school board Tuesday night to enter into a 99-year, $1 lease for an abandoned school on the city’s west side.

The school is one of two new schools opening next year as the district makes a play to recruit some of the 30,000 Detroit children who currently commute to the suburbs for school.

When news of the school first broke last month, some critics grumbled that the district should focus on supporting its existing schools rather than opening new ones. The 106-school district has dozens of buildings that are half-full or in serious disrepair. Others wondered why a district overwhelmingly serving African-American students is backing a school that emphasizes European culture rather than building additional Afrocentric schools.

But Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he hopes the Latin school’s unusual curriculum will appeal to families who might otherwise shun the district and will keep students — and the state funds that come with them — in the district rather than see them flow to charter or suburban schools.  

Board members, who approved an agreement for the Latin school in a unanimous vote Tuesday night, said they hope the district will hold the new school to high academic standards and will push to make sure that ancient African cultures such as Carthage and Kush are incorporated in the school’s curriculum along with Greece and Rome. They also called on the district to add Afrocentric programs to its schools.

“I’m pleased with this and excited,” said board member Misha Stallworth. “I like the classics but I also hope that as we continue to look at new school opportunities, we can pursue subjects that are a little more reflective of our community.”

According to an agreement approved by the board Tuesday, the new school will be run by the George Washington Scholars Endowment, an organization founded in 1785 that has opened similar schools in Washington, D.C., and New York.

The Detroit version will be a traditional district school, subject to school board oversight and policies. Teaching staff will be district employees and members of district unions, though some administrators will work for the endowment.

The district will pay for routine maintenance and operations, while the endowment plans to raise money — as much as $75 million — to support the school and to renovate the former Brady Elementary School on the city’s west side.

The endowment, which will operate the Latin School in another district building for two years while the Brady campus is being renovated, has ambitious plans involving a four-building campus in a traditional quad configuration. The campus will include a lower school serving grades K through 6, an upper school serving grades 7 through 12, a science and technology building, a “center for rhetoric and performing arts,” and a dormitory.

The agreement authorizes the school to house about 20 international students in the dorm.  

It’s not clear what happens if the endowment falls short of its ambitious fundraising goals. The agreement approved Tuesday calls for the property to revert back to the district if it is no longer being used as a traditional public school.

Also not clear is what happens if the school struggles academically or doesn’t meet the district’s expectations for serving students. The agreement approved Tuesday largely spells out the financial relationship between the district and the school and doesn’t go into detail about the school’s curriculum or academic policies beyond specifying that they will align with Michigan state standards.

The agreement states that if the district terminates the lease, it would have to repay the endowment for its renovation expenses — a provision that one school board member encouraged the district to reconsider as it negotiates the final language for the lease.

“I would push you to think about the terms under which you can cancel the lease,” said board member Sonya Mays. “There’s a requirement in here that we would have to pay back for the first 20 years. I would hope that we can carve out …. If they don’t meet academic standards or something like that. So just making sure that [repayment] is not sort of a blanket requirement on our end.”

Vitti said the district will require the school to meet or exceed the district average for academic performance.

The Latin school will be open to all Detroit residents but admission will be selective, based on grades and a student interview — not on standardized tests. The school will open initially with just fifth, sixth and seventh grades. It plans to add additional grades once it moves to its permanent building in 2021.