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:


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.


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.

In the money

Here’s how Colorado schools would spend an extra $100 million from the state

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Hannah Moore, 8, shows off her moves during practice for an after school talent show that is part of the Scholars Unlimited After School program at Ashley Elementary school on March 10, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. Scholars Unlimited is an after school and summer program funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant, which is threatened to be cut entirely under the White House's budget cuts. The 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant served almost 20,000 students in Colorado between 2015 and 2016 and 76 percent of students showed academic improvement. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Legislators on the Joint Budget Committee unanimously decided this week to set aside $100 million to “buy down” the budget stabilization factor.

This number – $822 million in 2017-18 – is the amount by which Colorado underfunds its schools when compared to the constitutional requirement that spending on education increase every year based on student count and inflation. It’s more commonly known as the negative factor, though lawmakers are trying to get away from that term.

For several years now, lawmakers have held the negative factor steady, but this year, as Colorado has more money to spend than it has had in a long time, Gov. John Hickenlooper wanted to make a dent in it and requested the $100 million reduction. To be clear, a $100 million reduction in the negative factor is $100 million more that the state would send to districts. Technically, this number will be finalized in a separate piece of legislation, the School Finance Bill, which is coming any day now.

But state Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee, wanted to give some reassurance to educators that the money will be there in the budget. 

“It would send a message to our K-12 community that we are not spending that money and have set it aside,” she said.

And educators have been clamoring to hear that message. The Colorado School Finance Project has been running a social media campaign for the $100 million buydown using the hashtags #k12needsco and #kidsmattertoo.

The non-profit asked school superintendents around the state to say what they would do with the extra money, which translates to an additional $114 on average for each enrolled student, compared to holding the budget stabilization factor steady. The answers are identified by region, but not by district.

Here’s a small sample of the responses:

You can read all of them here.

The Joint Budget Committee has set total program spending on education at $7.75 billion before the negative factor is applied, up from $7.45 billion this year, a 4 percent increase. Of total program spending, the state will pay $4.4 billion, with the rest coming from local property taxes. This doesn’t include voter-approved tax increases known as mill levy overrides.

That translates to average per-pupil spending of $7,959, compared to $7,662 this year. A budget stabilization factor of $722 million would yield an average per-pupil amount closer to $8,074. 

The smaller budget stabilization factor is significant beyond just one budget year because state law says that this number shouldn’t get larger from one year to the next. However, Colorado superintendents are also pushing for a tax increase and change to the distribution of school money. It will take more than an additional $100 million spread among 870,000 students to address all the needs they identify in their responses to the Colorado School Finance Project.

Hickenlooper had also requested an additional $200 million for the state education fund, with the intention that that money be used to offset costs to districts from proposed changes to the public pension system and expected reductions in property tax revenue in rural communities.

The Joint Budget Committee instead voted to set aside $225 million to deal with costs associated with fixing the Public Employees Retirement Association’s unfunded liability – but in the general fund rather than the state education fund and not specifically to help schools, where retirement costs account for a big chunk of the personnel budget.

The committee also agreed to set aside $30 million to help small rural districts with low tax bases and was supportive of setting aside $10 million to address rural teacher shortages, though some of the details are still being worked out.

March for Our Lives

Memphis students say Saturday protest is not just about school shootings. It’s about all gun violence.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A student at Columbine High School holds a sign during a protest of gun violence, on March 14, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado.

Students marching Saturday in Memphis against gun violence say they are not only protesting the shootings that killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. They also are speaking out against shootings that happen daily in their own city.

Seventeen-year-old John Chatman says he fears school shootings, but he especially fears the common gun violence in his neighborhood of South Memphis. He has lost close friends to shootings.

“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Chatman said. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis on the daily.”

Memphis had 200 homicides in 2017, down from 228 the previous year, the deadliest year recorded in the city in two decades.

Chatman is one of hundreds of Memphians expected to participate in this weekend’s March for Our Lives event as part of a nationwide protest sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The largest march will be in Washington, D.C., where up to a half million protesters are expected, but smaller demonstrations are planned in cities and towns across the nation. In Tennessee, other marches are slated for Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Clarksville, Cookeville, and Johnson City.

The Memphis march will start at 10 a.m. at Claiborne Temple, and Savanah Thompson will be there. One of more than a dozen student organizers, she worries that news about people getting shot has become commonplace.

“Being in Memphis, you get used to hearing about gun violence,” said Thompson, a freshman at White Station High School. “This affects the youth in our city. … We never want a school shooting to happen in Memphis or anywhere ever again.”

Alyssa Kieren, a student leader at Collierville High School, hopes the march fosters a sense of unity.

“We’re trying to stress that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Kieren said. “We have to acknowledge there is a problem and we have to come up with solutions. … The thing we’re upset about is that children are dying in our schools, and they’re dying in our city.”