Who Is In Charge

Here are 14 education bills that survived Indiana’s legislative session and 3 that didn’t

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Mike Pence is on the shortlist to be Trump's VP choice.

Indiana’s 2016 legislative session ended much as it began: With major education policy bills flying ahead on testing and teaching.

Gov. Mike Pence said he considered the session, start to finish, a success for the state, noting the strong support from lawmakers for bills like one that holds teachers and schools harmless from the consequences of dramatic drops in ISTEP scores after the test was reconfigured last year. Pence also praised another bill that aims to gets rid of the test altogether after 2017.

“We took decisive steps early in this session to ensure that as we raised standards and introduced a new test that the teacher bonuses and compensation would not be affected and that our schools would be treated fairly,” Pence said. “It (is) time for us to take a step back from ISTEP and think about new ways and a new system of accountability that could earn the confidence of parents and teachers, and we’ve taken a decisive step in this session to repeal and replace ISTEP.”

Not everyone was so happy. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz doesn’t think the legislature — especially its Republican majority — did enough for schools and teachers.

“Bipartisan common sense did not last long in the Statehouse,” Ritz said. “The legislature failed to take action to address Indiana’s teacher shortage in a comprehensive or substantial way.”

Ritz said none of the recommendations she and a panel of 49 educators formed this past summer were included in any bills that passed. She plans to move ahead with the suggestions that don’t require approval or funding from the Indiana General Assembly and push for the others to return next year.

“This legislative session was little more than a missed opportunity for Indiana,” Ritz said.

Here’s what happened to 14 education bills on the legislative agenda this year that are moving forward and three that won’t:

BILLS HEADING TO THE GOVERNOR

ISTEP repeal. House Bill 1395, authored by House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would eliminate the state’s 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 77-19 and the Senate 50-0.

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 97-0 and the Senate 48-2.

Teacher mentoring. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor new teachers. The bill would also allow teachers in their first two years of work who receive poor ratings on their annual reviews to be eligible for salary raises. Right now, teachers who receive low marks are not allowed to earn raises. The extra pay is not open to union negotiation, and neither is extra pay for teachers of Advanced Placement classes that was added later on. The mentoring bill also absorbed all of a Senate bill that would, among other things, extend the deadline to apply for private school tuition vouchers. The bill passed the House 51-43 and the Senate 33-17.

Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would study possible future partnerships between high 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. 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 84-5 and the Senate 49-1.

Minority 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 and the Senate 50-0.

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 final version of the bill also includes provisions on school building improvements. The bill passed the House 95-0 and the Senate 50-0.

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 and the Senate 40-10.

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 and the Senate 50-0.

Federal funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, 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 and the Senate 26-24.

Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, establishes requirements for enrollment in 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. It would also allow a traditional public school board to make an agreement with a charter school to become an Innovation Network School. If the innovation school wants to use just student test score growth, rather than the test scores themselves, to determine its A-F accountability grade, it would be allowed to for up to three years. The bill passed the House 87-9 and the Senate 49-1.

Curricular materials. Senate Bill 96, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, 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 and the House 95-0.

Out-of-school learning fund. Senate Bill 251, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, 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 41-4 and the House 90-4.

Various education issuesSenate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, 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 schools have a source of safe drinking water. Additionally, the sweeping bill assigns a variety of issues to study committees, including school start times, incentives for dual credit teachers and the feasibility of individual teacher salary negotiations. The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 96-0.

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 and the House 95-0.

MAJOR BILLS THAT DIED

Teacher pay. Senate Bill 10, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, and House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would have allowed districts to give teachers extra pay outside of union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements. The House version said the pay could only be given to teachers who took a job the district deemed hard to fill, but the Senate version would have authorized extra pay to attract or retain teachers “as needed.” Both bills were strongly opposed by some teachers and teachers unions, who argued the measure usurped not only union power but also could create a poisonous atmosphere among teachers and administrators. Supporters said the freedom was needed to combat teacher hiring problems across the state. House and Senate Republicans said too much “misinformation” had been spread about the bills and decided not to call either one for a final vote.

Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Kenley, would have allowed 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, but Kenley withdrew the measure at a House committee meeting after public testimony revealed a lack of public support. “For some reason … there is such a fervor among the small school group that this is an inappropriate bill,” Kenley said. “I don’t have any desire to pass a bill that tells someone to do something they don’t want to do.”

Budget woes

In budget address, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker proposes modest education increases

J.B. Pritzker speaks during a round table discussion with high school students at a creative workspace for women on October 1, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Even while calling his proposed budget “austere” and speaking plainly about the yawning deficit he inherited, Illinois’ new governor, J.B. Pritzker, struck an optimistic chord when describing how he plans to plow more money into schools.

His fiscal year 2020 budget would allocate a total of $7.2 billion for K-12 funding, including an extra $25 million in addition to the mandated $350 million annual minimum increase under the state’s funding formula.

“There’s a focus here on trying to not only rebuild from the damage that was done over the last four years but also to set us up for growing the economy, which happens in part because of our investments in education,” Pritzker said, nodding to a nearly two-year budget stalemate under his predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner, that left the state with billions in unpaid bills.

During Wednesday’s speech, the governor said the long-term solution to the state’s budget deficits  was a progressive income tax that would take more money from Illinois’ wealthiest residents.

In the shorter term, though, Pritzker’s budget proposal includes an additional $25 million for Illinois schools, an increase of $21 million in special education grants, and a $5 million boost for career and technical education programs for high school students.

Also in the proposal: $50 million in need-based college grants, another $35 million in university scholarships, and $2 million to cover waived fees for low-income students taking Advanced Placement tests.

Pritzker’s budget would allocate an additional $100 million to the Early Childhood Block Grant. That would bring the state investment in early childhood education to $594 million next year.

The governor Wednesday also proposed freezing a tax credit for businesses and individuals who contributed scholarships for private schools. Critics argued the program cut into state income taxes that would otherwise help fund public schools. Supporters, including Rauner, said it was one of the few ways struggling families could afford private schools.

Pritzker noted that given Illinois’ economic reality, there is a limit to how much cost-cutting alone could do. Instead, he promised to pass a budget that would include an increase in funding across the board as a way to invest in the state’s future, with a particular focus on education.

“We must stop slashing programs that build future prosperity,” Pritzker said in his budget address. “Over the long term, we must make investments in education, livable wages, innovative human service programs and job training.”

In unveiling his budget, the governor spoke plainly about the state’s dire fiscal situation: a $3.2 billion budget deficit and $15 billion in debt from unpaid bills — an amount that is equal to funding “free four-year university tuition for more than 12,000 students,” he said.

Nearly two years without a state budget under the previous governor prompted a massive backlog of funding in the K-12 education budget that the state is still struggling to fill, on top of an $8.1 billion backlog of unpaid bills across state agencies.

A 2017 overhaul in the formula Illinois uses to fund schools put the state on a 10-year path to closing the more than $6.8 billion gap between what it spends on K-12 public schools and the projected cost of adequate school funding. In January, the state board of education asked for $15 billion in public schools funding.

“It’s a very teensy step and better an increase than not,” Wendy Katten with Raise Your Hand Action, a parent group advocating for public education, said of the increased funding for K-12 schools. “But that’s nowhere near the $7 billion that’s needed for basic adequacy, let alone the $2 billion needed for [Chicago Public Schools].”   

Pritzker’s proposed additions are modest, to be sure, but unions representing teachers in Chicago and statewide, as well as disability advocates, said any additional investment in education is most welcome.

“It’s clear that he understands the importance of great public schools and higher education and is committed to fulfilling the state’s responsibility to invest in them,” the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Dan Montgomery, said.

And the Chicago Teachers Union asked that Chicago Public Schools to use any extra state funding to lower class sizes and increase special education staffing.

“The increase in evidence-based funding over the statutory minimum recognizes that Illinois’ challenges with education funding equity are fundamentally rooted in the need to drive more resources to students, like those in CPS, who have suffered from decades of insufficient and unequal school funding,” Jesse Sharkey, president of the union, said.

Chris Yun, the education policy analyst with Access Living, which advocates for people with disabilities, said she was heartened to see a bump for special education funding, noting: “Students with disabilities are often forgotten because the number is much less than general education students. We have a long way to go, but this is just step one.”

Pritzker told Chalkbeat in October that contributing more money to education would require solving the state’s longstanding budget woes. At that time, Illinois was expected to enter fiscal year 2019 with a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. That figure has now more than tripled.

Its problems are compounded significantly by its pension responsibilities, making it increasingly difficult to allocate money to other needs, said Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

“The payments are jumping at levels our system can’t afford,” Martire said.

Pritzker on Wednesday said he would “smooth the pension ramp by modestly extending it,” which hints at a plan to push payments off further.

While Pritzker’s progressive taxation plan has a steady thrum of support from Democratic lawmakers, the measure has not yet passed the state legislature.

Pritzker acknowledged that his 2020 budget was built on a tax structure that he still considered regressive and said he hoped to change that going forward.  

“Not only is our tax system unfair, it’s also inadequate to solve our long-term financial challenges,” he said. “Make no bones about it, I choose to stand up for working families and will lead the charge to finally enact a fair tax system in Illinois.”

Cassie Creswell, a board member of public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Action, said the budget address was a positive indicator of Pritzker’s support for revamping taxation, but feared “the rates that will be proposed to make it politically palatable won’t make it the rate we need to fund stuff in the state.”

interview time

Four candidates left make their case before commission for open Shelby County Schools board seat

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Interim school board candidate Aubrey Howard presents before the Shelby County Commission.

Four remaining candidates for a vacated Memphis school board seat had their chance to tell the Shelby County Commission why they are the right person for the job on Wednesday afternoon.

They were the remaining viable candidates after six applicants were disqualified for living outside of District 2, the area the interim board member will represent in Shelby County Schools. Chalkbeat reported on Monday that six of the candidates live outside of the district. The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and will serve until the term expires in August 2020.

The four applicants are (We’ve linked to their full applications.):

  • Erskine Gillespie, an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank.
  • Althea Greene, a retired Memphis educator and pastor of Real Life Ministries.
  • Aubrey Howard, the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office.
  • Charles McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Commissioners peppered the candidates with questions on big issues facing the district, including school choice, the budget process, managing the district’s aging buildings and underenrollment, and how they could improve the relationship between the district and the county commission, the funding body for schools.

In their pitches to commissioners, applicants touted their previous experiences with K-12 education, such as work with nonprofits and curriculum development, and their ties to Memphis schools. “I’m a product of Memphis schools,” was a phrase said again and again.

Most applicants expressed general support for charter schools, which have grown significantly in recent years in Memphis, but Gillespie said he believed “the influx of our charter school program is an issue that must be addressed.” McKinney sits on the board of a charter high school, and Greene and Howard said they had no issues with charter schools as a way to serve individual needs of students.

On the relationship with the county commission, Greene said: “I think it’s important that as a school board member, I’m at county commission meetings. And work as a bridge to educate children and give them the best education we can, and we know that costs money.”

Gillespie was asked by Commissioner Willie Brooks what he thinks of alternative schools, which serve students who have been expelled or suspended from traditional schools for behavioral reasons. There are several alternative schools in District 2.

“I think alternative schools are truly something necessary,” Gillespie said. “They can provide a trauma-informed response for our students.”

The questionnaire given to each candidate asked about TNReady, the state’s embattled testing system. Commissioner Michael Whaley, who chairs the education committee, asked Howard to expand on his answer that the test “didn’t work.”

“Those decisions about testing and teacher evaluations would be better met if they were local and not state controlled,” Howard replied. “For sure, the state wasted a huge amount of money with the companies they hired that failed us.”

Gillespie and McKinney described aging and often near-empty school buildings as a large issue facing the district. The interim board member would help analyze a massive district plan left by former superintendent Hopson that would consolidate 28 Memphis schools into 10 new buildings.

McKinney said the school board should be having regular conversations with the commission and the neighborhoods it serves on how demographic shifts have impacted the county, creating underenrollment in some schools.

“For the school board, those conversations need to be ongoing, so when it comes time to make a decision about whether or not to close a school, it’s not coming as a surprise,” McKinney said.

Three people from Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group, spoke in support of McKinney. The group’s leader, Sarah Carpenter, said he’s been a consistent figure in her neighborhood of North Memphis.

Shelby County Commission
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Commissioner Willie Brooks (left) asked candidates about how they would work with the county commission.

“I’m tired of people coming to our community when they want a seat and we don’t see them anymore,” Carpenter said. “Our children’s lives are on the line.”

Commissioner Edmund Ford, himself a former teacher, said after the interviews he would like to see an educator on the board.

“There were a lot of things I saw as a teacher, when I would go to the school board to ask for their assistance, that I would not receive,” Ford said. “Personally, I would like to see someone who has been there and done that.”

After hearing from the candidates, the commission voted to move the item to its Monday meeting, where commissioners will vote on a successor.

For more details, see our Twitter thread from the hearing.