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)

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.

share your story

Teachers: How does your district handle family leave? How did it affect your life?

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

New York City is in the news because a petition there is calling for the city to create paid family leave for teachers, who currently must use accrued sick days if they have a child and are limited to six paid weeks off.

Chalkbeat wants to know: How do other districts and schools compare? What implications do these policies have for educators and their families?

If you have an experience to share, or can simply explain how this works where you work, please tell us here. Your answers will help guide our reporting.