In the Classroom

Aspiring teacher scholarship bill gutted in Senate panel after concerns over costs

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Indiana Sen. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, Senate President David Long, House Speaker Brian Bosma and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (left to right, back row) at a special legislative corrections session last year.

An ambitious plan to lure teachers to Indiana classrooms with generous college scholarships has been scrapped by a state Senate committee.

The plan, designed to attract more students to the teaching profession, would have set up a system for aspiring teachers in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating classes to get $7,500 per year toward four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools.

The proposal was approved overwhelmingly by the House earlier this year where the bill authorizing the program — House Bill 1002 — passed by a vote of 96-1.

But the Senate Appropriations Committee today amended the bill to remove the new scholarship program and replace it with a charge to the Commission for Higher Education to study existing scholarship programs. The stripped-down bill passed the Senate committee 11-0 and now heads to the full Senate.

“Folks on all spectrums support the program, and it’s unfortunate the Senate has chosen to gut it,” said the bill’s author, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. He vowed to fight to for the scholarships.

When the two chambers pass different versions of bills, they go to a conference committee that tries to find a compromise. Bosma said he thought the changes were part of power play by the Senate to put pressure on House lawmakers regarding Senate bills now in the House.

“I can only presume, although I have not been told directly, that that’s a move for leverage on some other bills,” Bosma said. “I suspect the fact that my name is on the bill has something to do with it.”

But senators say their concerns with the scholarships have to do with cost. Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the issue might not have as much support now.

“I think there’s some concerns about it, that it doesn’t have as much support as he might have had on the other side,” Long said.

Bosma released estimates earlier this year that put the expected cost of the scholarship program at $1.5 million for a 200-student cohort next year, when a new state budget is written, and $6 million per year once the program grows to 800 students. For the first four years, he said, the state would pay about $15.2 million to support the scholarships. The original bill did not ask for any money in 2016.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the chairman of the powerful appropriations committee, said that even without the added cost to the state, Indiana already has several programs that support college students studying to become teachers.

“House Bill 1002 is in the middle of … 10 programs to do this kind of thing,” Kenley said. “I felt like based on prior experiences with (earlier programs) there were some safeguards that needed to be considered before we actually adopted this.”

Bosma said he hasn’t lost hope for the scholarship. When the bill moves to a conference committee, he said he plans to argue for the original language of the bill to be back on the table. But if he’s unable to resurrect them in committee, he said he’ll undoubtedly ring the bill up again next year in the General Assembly.

“It’s unfortunate to delay it another year,” Bosma said. “It’s the right concept, it needs to happen and we’ll see if we can make it happen this session.”

If not, he said, “we’ll come back next session.”

The scholarship proposal emerged originally from talks between Bosma and Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, a Democrat, who proposed a similar idea last year.

The pair raised concerns about schools across the state that have reported problems hiring teachers in subjects such as math, science and special education. The bill has seen broad support among lawmakers, educators and advocates.

Today on Twitter, Hendry called the changes a “major disappointment.”

“I am hopeful that lawmakers will consider adding it back into their education agenda before they adjourn,” Hendry said in a statement. “It’s important to send the message to our best and brightest that a career in the classroom is attainable and attractive, and this program would help achieve that goal.”

talking SHSAT

Love or hate the specialized high school test, New York City students take the exam this weekend

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a town hall this summer in Brooklyn's District 15, parents protested city plans to overhaul admissions to elite specialized high schools.

The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test has been both lauded as a fair measure for who gets accepted to the city’s most coveted high schools — and derided as the cause for starkly segregating them.

This weekend, the tense debate is likely to be far from the minds of thousands of students as they sit for the three-hour exam, which currently stands as the sole admissions criteria for vaunted schools such as Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.

All the debate and all the policy stuff that’s been happening —  it’s just words and there really isn’t anything concrete that’s been put into place yet. So until it happens, they just continue on,” said Mahalia Watson, founder of the website Let’s Talk Schools, an online guide for parents navigating their school options.

Mayor Bill de Blasio this summer ignited a firestorm with a proposal to nix the SHSAT and instead offer admission to top middle school students across the city. Critics say the test is what segregates students, offering an advantage to families who can afford tutoring or simply are more aware of the importance of the exam. Only 10 percent of specialized high school students are black or Hispanic, compared to almost 70 percent of all students citywide.

For some, the uproar, coupled with a high profile lawsuit claiming Harvard University discriminates against Asian applicants, has only added to the pressure to get a seat at a specialized school. Asian students make up about 62 percent of enrollment at specialized high schools, and families from that community have lobbied hard to preserve the way students are admitted.

One Asian mother told Chalkbeat in an email that, while she believes in the need for programs that promote diversity, the SHSAT is “a color blind and unbiased” admissions measure. Her daughter has been studying with the help of test prep books, and now she wonders whether it will be enough.  

“In my opinion, options for a good competitive high school are very limited,” the mom wrote. “With all the recent news of the mayor trying to change the admission process to the specialized high schools and the Harvard lawsuit makes that more important for her to get acceptance.”

Last year, 28,000 students took the SHSAT, and only 5,000 were offered admission. Among this year’s crop of hopeful students is Robert Mercier’s son, an eighth grader with his sights set on High School of American Studies at Lehman College.

Mercier has encouraged his son to study for the test — even while hoping that the admissions system will eventually change. His son plays catcher on a baseball team and is an avid debater at school, activities that Mercier said are important for a well-rounded student and should be factored into admissions decisions.

“If you don’t do well on that one test but you’ve been a great student your whole career,” Mercier said, “I just don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think that’s necessarily a complete assessment of a student’s abilities or worth.”

Teacher's tale

Video: This Detroit teacher explains how she uses her classroom to ‘start a real loud revolution’

Silver Danielle Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy, tells her story at the Tale the Teacher storytelling event on October 6, 2018.

Silver Danielle Moore doesn’t just see teaching as way to pass along information to students. She views teaching as a way to bring about change.

“The work of us as educators is to start a real loud revolution,” Moore told the audience this month at a teacher storytelling event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat. “The revolution will not happen without resistance, and social justice classrooms are the instruments of that resistance.”

Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy charter school, was one of four Detroit educators who told their stories on stage at the Tale the Teacher event held at the Lyft Lounge at MusicTown Detroit on October 6.

The event, organized by Western International High School counselor Joy Mohammed, raised about $120 that Mohammed said she used to buy a laptop for a student who needed it to participate on the school’s yearbook staff.

Over the next few weeks, Chalkbeat will be posting videos of the stories told at the event.

Moore, a self-proclaimed “black hip-hop Jesus feminist” opened her story with a memory of leaving a teacher training session four years ago to travel to Ferguson, Missouri, to be part of Labor Day weekend protests after Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot by a police officer.

“There was so much grief but also so much fight in that place,” she recalled. “I will never forget the moment I stood at the place that Mike Brown was killed. I will never forget the look in his mother’s face.”

She recalled bringing that experience back to Detroit and to her classroom.

“Imagine, after that weekend, returning back to the classroom on September 2nd,” she said. “I fought that weekend for Mike Brown … but I also did it for the 66 kids I would have that school year and every child I have had since then.”

Watch Moore’s full story here:

Video by Colin Maloney

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