2017 legislative session

What Indiana education bills should you be watching? Testing, teacher pay and school choice.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

In a new year, with a new governor and a new state superintendent, Indiana’s 2017 legislative session hasn’t exactly been the hotbed of activity around education policy that it was last year, when two major education bills had already been signed into law.

But that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t consider bills that propose big changes to testing, teacher pay, accountability and vouchers if they move forward.

Below, we highlight the education bills we’re paying the most attention to this year, as well as links to stories that can help you get up to speed.

Lawmakers have filed more than 100 bills on education. You can find the entire bill list for the 2017 session here, and see which bills have been assigned to education committees on the House and Senate committee websites.

TESTING

ISTEP replacement: Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, authored a proposal that would create a new state testing system called “ILEARN,” which stands for “Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network.” The proposal would be similar to recommendations released late last year by a committee of lawmakers and educators charged with helping create a new test, but it does not include the suggestion to eliminate tieing test scores to teacher evaluations. Read more about “ILEARN” here, and find all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here. (House Bill 1003)

PRESCHOOL

Expand preschool to 10 counties: These bills propose expanding the state’s preschool program from five to 10 counties. The Senate version asks for $20 million per year over the next two years to do so. The House bill would also loosen the income requirements so families of more means can participate. Preschool providers could also apply for a grant — with a philanthropic match — to expand their program’s capacity or establish a program under the House plan. Read more about the preschool proposals here. (House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 276)

Expand preschool to any county: Authored by Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, This bill removes the requirement that the state’s preschool program be limited to just five counties. It opens it up so preschool providers who meet the quality standards in any county can be eligible for grants. Republican leaders in the statehouse have already said they are opposed to this kind of large-scale expansion of the state’s preschool program. (House Bill 1614)

SCHOOL CHOICE

Taking classes outside public schools: A proposed “course access” program would allow students to choose certain classes to take outside their public school. Then, those course providers would get a cut of a school or district’s state funding. Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, authored the bill. The program would represent a new school choice strategy in Indiana. Learn more about the program here. (House Bill 1007)

Charter school renewal and closure: This bill, authored by Behning, would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal, as well as other changes, could have implications for Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies. Read more about Hoosier Academies here, and online schools in our series. (House Bill 1382)

Education savings accounts: Authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, respectively, these bills would establish a program that would allow parents more access to their child’s state education funding, known as an education savings account. Parents or guardians could use the money for school tuition or other educational expenses. The House bill would open up the accounts, where 100 percent of a student’s share of state tuition aid would be deposited, to any student, whereas the Senate version would limit it to students with special needs. Read more about education savings accounts here and here. (House Bill 1591 and Senate Bill 534)

SCHOOL FUNDING

Changes to school budgets: authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, and Rep. Tim Brown, R- Crawfordsville, would collapse several pools of money schools and districts use into three at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year: education, operations and debt service. Cook says the move gives schools more flexibility to control how they spend money. Learn more about how the budget proposal would work here. (House Bill 1009)

Eliminating textbook fees: This bill would get rid of textbook fees for public school families. (House Bill 1568)

TEACHING

Teacher pay and advanced degrees: House Bill 1081 would allow years of experience and extra education to count for a larger share of the calculation that determines a teacher’s salary raise. Similarly, House Bill 1630 suggests salary increases may be provided for master’s or doctoral degrees, and Senate Bill 498 makes a correction that allows advanced degrees to count for more than one year of salary increases. (House Bill 1081, House Bill 1630 and Senate Bill 498)

Elementary school teacher licenses: This bill would require elementary school teachers to specialize in a specific subject area after June 30, 2021, in order to get a teaching license. The state would no longer be allowed to grant a general education elementary school teaching license. (House Bill 1383)

Bonuses for AP and IB teachers: Authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, this bill would give yearly bonuses to teachers of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes if their students pass the associated tests. (House Bill 1389)

Teacher induction program: This proposal, offered by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would create a program to support new teachers, principals and superintendents that would be considered a pilot until 2027. If passed, the bill would also require lawmakers to study whether teachers should have to participate in such a program before receiving their licenses. (House Bill 1449)

Teacher tax credits: The House bill would give licensed K-12 teachers a state income tax credit, whereas the Senate version proposes the credit for K-12 private school teachers. (House Bill 1638 and Senate Bill 284)

DISCIPLINE

Rationale for suspensions and expulsions: This bill would prohibit a school from suspending or expelling a student unless the principal determines that the suspension or expulsion would “substantially” reduce disruption to learning or prevent physical injury. The bill would also require schools to explain the decision-making behind the length of a suspension or expulsion to parents and offer students support during a suspension to complete make-up work. (Senate Bill 274)

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Developmental delay: The bills would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5 and make developmental delay an official disability category so that children who receive that diagnosis can receive special education grants. Learn more about the issue here. (Senate Bill 432 and Senate Bill 475)

MISCELLANEOUS

Appointing the state superintendent: The bills would make the state superintendent a governor-appointed position after 2021. Both versions remove a requirement that the state superintendent candidate must live in Indiana for at least two years. Read more about this plan, a priority outlined by Gov. Eric Holcomb, here. (House Bill 1005Senate Bill 422, Senate Bill 179)

High school graduation rate and diplomas: This bill would alter the graduation rate calculation so that students who drop out would only count in a school’s rate if they attended that school for at least 90 percent of the school year. The bill also requires the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades. Read more about Indiana’s debates over diplomas here and here. (House Bill 1384)

Dual language immersion: The bill would continue the state’s dual language immersion pilot program, but it makes a change so that schools couldn’t receive a grant of more than $25,000. Previously, some schools received much larger grants. Check out more Chalkbeat reporting on dual language and English-learners. (House Bill 1385)

Competency-based learning: This bill would provide grants for five schools or districts that create a “competency-based” program, which means teachers allow students to move on to more difficult subject matter once they can show they have mastered previous concepts or skills, regardless of time or pace. (House Bill 1386)

Changes to ISTEP, A-F, vouchers: This bill makes a number of unrelated changes. It would provide a tax credit to licensed teachers; replace ISTEP with a test to be determined by the state board of education; allow any student age 5 to 22 to receive a voucher; eliminate the state’s requirement to evaluate teachers annually; and alter Indiana’s accountability system so that it no longer uses letter grades. (House Bill 1590)

Out of school care programs: This bill would ask the state to provide grants to schools with before and after school programs for students in grades 5-8. Read more about after school program debates here. (Senate Bill 116)

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.