From the statehouse

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:


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.


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.”

Building bonds

‘Trust is being built’ as foundation invests in programs to support Detroit parents and students

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
Teacher Michele Pizzo and students Wajiha Begum, Iftiker Choudhury and Demetrious Yancy are closer since she's visited their homes


Anna Hightower didn’t know what to think when her daughter, Jasmine, wanted permission to invite her teachers to visit their home in October. But she pushed past her reluctance and nervousness, baked brownie cookies and opened her doors to two teachers from the Davison Elementary-Middle School.

She discovered a new world of information on being a better parent as a participant in the Detroit main district’s new initiative to empower parents, the Parent Teacher Home Visit Program.

It’s part of a sweeping initiative led by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which announced a three-year, $3 million grant Wednesday with the Detroit Public Schools Foundation. The initiative also includes a parent academy which will serve 7,000 parents, and a summer camp for up to 900 pre-kindergartners starting in the fall.

It’s the first grant Kellogg has awarded as part of its $25 million commitment to a major initiative called Hope Starts Here that Kellogg, along with the Kresge Foundation, announced last fall. The two foundations plan to spend $50 million to improve the lives of the city’s youngest children. (Kresge and Kellogg also support Chalkbeat).

Hightower said she believes the home visits are helping set the direction for her daughter’s life.

“I see now that DPS is not just a school for my daughter, but also a GPS,” she said.  “They see where my daughter wants to be, they know the destination and give her the opportunity to see the different routes she can go. They encouraged me as a parent to foster her growth as well.”

By the time the first home visit was over, the new relationships got 12-year-old Jasmine planning to join the school math club, apply to attend Cass Technical High School and consider her college choices.

La June Montgomery Tabron, W.K. Kellogg Foundation President and CEO, helped design the initiative to help the city’s youngest citizens, but Wednesday was the first day she met program participants.

“It just brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “It’s real, it’s practical. These aren’t easy relationships to build, but they are being built and trust is being built.”

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said rebuilding the district must include making parents stronger advocates for their children’s education.

“Every parent cares about their child’s education,” he said. “The reality, though, is a lot of our parents don’t know how to navigate the system in order to advocate for their child every day. Some of our parents are intimidated by the system. Sometimes, parents are not welcomed by schools, principals and even teachers, and sometimes district staff.”

Parents, he said, also often are carrying heavy loads, working multiple jobs, and struggling to pay bills. While they’re navigating everything, they are challenged to put their children and their  schooling first.

He said he envisions a “critical mass of parents” in every school who will hold the district accountable for its performance: They will demand certified teachers. They will understand how to help their child get a higher SAT test score, complete a financial aid application and help their children become better readers.

“All of this, I probably would say, is part of the greatest reflection of what I want us to be as a district,” he said.

Parents will be able to take classes on topics such as resume writing, scholarships, and college placements tests. The Parent Academy training will be held in schools, libraries, community centers and places of worship across the city.  

Michele Pizzo, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher at Davison, said volunteering to visit homes has become personal for her.

She’s gained weight eating four- and five-course meals of samosas, biryani rice and rich desserts prepared by families in the school with a majority Bengali student population. She’s made new friends while visiting with her students’ parents, and she better understands her students and feels she knows them better.

Since the fall, when the program was in its pilot stage, she has visited 30 parents after school and on weekends — all in homes except one.

“We try to make the parents feel as comfortable as possible. We walk in, give them a hug, kissing on both cheeks, and there’s a huge meal that takes place,” she said.  “They are able to open up to us, and even if they couldn’t speak English, their child translated for us.”

For seventh-grader Iftiker Choudhury the home visits have made him and his family closer to his teacher.

“I get along with the teacher more, and it’s like very friendly now,” he said. “I’m comfortable now and I talk to her more. My parents knowing her, it creates a bond in all of us.”

Every Student Succeeds Act

The Indiana State Board of Education is hitting the brakes on a plan to overhaul A-F school grades

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

The Indiana State Board of Education is pressing pause on a proposed overhaul of how schools are graded that drew criticism from educators and some education advocates.

Board members said they wanted more time to consider how the A-F proposal — initially created to address new federal accountability law — would work alongside new graduation requirements and to incorporate feedback from educators about how the school grades are calculated, especially for high schools.

That means for this year, the 2018-19 school year, and possibly longer, Indiana schools will be measured according to two different yardsticks — a state model introduced in 2016 and a federal system that complies with the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

Read: Indiana has a curious plan to sidestep federal rules — give schools two A-F grades next year

The board met Wednesday to continue hammering out the new process for calculating state grades, a draft of which was approved in January. But just as the meeting started, board member Byron Ernest suggested pausing process, aiming instead for a new A-F grading model for the 2019-20 school year at the earliest.

“I would like for us to take a step back and do some research,” Ernest said. Four of the state board members were absent, including state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. The seven present board members quickly reached a consensus that they should postpone a decision on the A-F rules, though no official vote happened.

As it stands now, the state and federal grading methods for calculating school ratings have important differences. The federal grade calculation, for example, would include school attendance rates and language proficiency of English-learners, whereas the state calculation would mainly rely on state test scores and test score growth. Because Indiana’s calculation also excludes certain students that the federal plan includes, such as those receiving credit recovery services, the final ratings could differ significantly for the same school. Although state and federal accountability metrics have differed in the past, the differences going forward would be more significant.

The differences ultimately add a lot of confusion to a state accountability system designed to be simpler to understand for teachers, parents, and the community.

Cari Whicker, a board member and principal, said the changes Indiana has made to testing and accountability have been exhausting and frustrating for schools.

“Either A-F accountability or testing has changed every year since 2011,” Whicker said. “That’s a lot for schools. What you consider tweaking is truly moving the target for people in the field.”

The pause is also an about-face from a meeting just a couple months ago, where board members shot down a similar proposal from Gordon Hendry to slow down. On Wednesday, Hendry said he was glad to hear Ernest’s proposal.

“That’s what I advocated for in January — wouldn’t it behoove us to take our time,” Hendry said.

In January, educators and education advocates came forward with concerns over the process for creating the new school grades, which they said was far too fast and not transparent. They also took issue with the substance of the state plan, which would have made test scores more important and limited how much test score improvement could have factored into high school grades.

It’s not yet clear exactly what changes the board wants to make in the state A-F grading model that haven’t already been discussed or considered. The Indiana Department of Education released its federal ESSA plan over the summer, and the board has had multiple opportunities to examine that plan and give feedback.

Further discussion is expected at the state board’s April meeting.