With about five weeks to go in the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers are still aiming to resolve issues of funding, diplomas, and district takeover — all proposals that are still alive despite the winnowing and rush that comes with a “short session.”
The short session — which alternates each year with a longer session focused on writing the next two-year budget — has given lawmakers only about 10 weeks to move education bills, which compete for their time and attention with all of the other major issues facing the Republican-led state.
But legislators moved quickly this session to address what districts consider one of the more urgent matters on the agenda: plugging a school funding gap, the result of a miscalculation in how many students would enroll in public schools over the next two years. Lawmakers quickly proposed two bills to address the shortfall, and the House even made it its highest legislative priority.
Both of the bills, which move money from a reserve fund to the state general fund, sped through their respective chambers, and are on-track to be moved through the opposing chamber. Even with revisions to the proposed law, it’s likely that a fix will be approved before the session ends in mid-March.
Also drawing lawmakers’ attention was a bill dealing with various aspects of the state’s new district takeover system. The proposal was catapulted front and center when lawmakers included a provision to strip Gary’s school board of its voting power, removing even its ability to fill its own vacancies, following the district’s inability to mitigate its $100 million in debt. Republican lawmakers are also largely behind a measure to give Ball State University the opportunity to take control of the struggling Muncie school district, which has had its own forays into debt and fiscal mismanagement.
Debate on the bill, which would also create an early warning system for school district financial health, went on for hours last week. Democrats from Muncie and Gary pleaded with their colleagues to oppose the bill, but it passed 64-27 that day.
Not every proposal made it through initial vetting. One that fell by the wayside was a priority of state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick: to make kindergarten mandatory. However, it gained no traction with lawmakers. Two bills addressing the issue were never given hearings.
Below is a summary of some of the other education bills that are still alive this session, as well as those that were defeated. That does not mean they are officially dead; during the second half of the session, it’s not unheard of for issues to be revived, though it is unlikely.
BILLS THAT ARE MOVING FORWARD
Graduation and workforce
Senate Bill 50, which now includes the workforce provisions from Senate Bill 157, would allow students to stay in high school for an additional year to pursue advanced classes or finish a certification related to their careers. It would also create a state agency and executive to oversee career and technical education, among other proposals.
Senate Bill 177 and House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. The bills would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. The House bill would change the state high school exam to a national college-entrance exam, require high schools to test students in science, and eliminate the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. It would also change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.
Senate Bill 189 and House Bill 1001 would close the gap in school funding that resulted from miscalculations in the number of students attending public schools. The bills would let the state transfer up to $25 million per year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts.
House Bill 1315 deals with district takeover. The bill would reduce the powers of the Gary school board and make it an advisory committee. It allows Ball State University to take over the operation of Muncie Schools. It also would create a school district financial health dashboard that uses several fiscal indicators to determine if a district is at-risk and should be put on a watchlist.
Senate Bill 172 would require public schools to offer computer science classes as an elective in high schools, as well as a part of the science curriculum for all students. The bill also sets up a grant program to pay for teacher training in computer science.
Senate Bill 297 would require schools to include “employability skills,” also known as “soft skills,” in their curriculums. The idea for the bill came from David Freitas, a member of the state board of education.
Senate Bill 65 would require parents to give their approval for children to participate in instruction on sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation. Currently, the system is opt-out, not opt-in, as the bill proposes.
Senate Bill 8 would require all districts, charter and private schools to teach cursive.
House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science.
Senate Bill 387 would allow the state to grant an “initial practitioner license” to prospective teachers even if they have not passed subject area exams so long as they have at least a 3.0 GPA, have completed student teaching, and have received a job with a school. The bill would let districts hire up to 10 percent of teachers with this license under these circumstances. The bill would also let districts pay teachers different amounts in an effort to fill jobs in special education, science or math fields. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers was removed.
House Bill 1420, among several other measures, would not let a student who has been expelled from a virtual charter school for non-attendance re-enroll in that same school during the same school year.
House Bill 1421 would ask the state education department to develop a school discipline model that reduces suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color. It also requires the department provide guidance and information to districts, beginning in 2019, that want to use that model. It encourages the legislative council to study positive student discipline and restorative justice and asks the education department to survey districts on those practices.
House Bill 1398 would allow a group of charter schools and districts to form a “coalition” to pursue innovative academic strategies. Coalition members could also waive certain state requirements, such as the requirement that students pass Algebra 2 to graduate.
Senate Bill 217 would require districts and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia and by 2020, to employ at least one dyslexia specialist, among other provisions.
House Bill 1314 would set up data sharing between the state’s education and child services departments. It would also require that the Indiana State Board of Education release an annual report about foster youth education.
BILLS THAT ARE DEAD
Senate Bill 205 would have allowed students transferring from one private school to another to take their remaining voucher dollars with them that year. The bill initially saw support from the education committee, but the Senate Appropriations Committee did not hear it.
Senate Bills 315, 350, and 406 would have placed more restrictions on charter school authorizers and required them to show the state their schools are academically sound before they open additional schools or enroll more students. None of the bills received hearings.
Senate Bill 7 would have barred schools from starting before the last Monday in August. Such calendar bills have been proposed each year, and none have moved forward.
House Bill 1264 would have given grants to schools that applied to create “competency-based education” programs, which would let them alter instruction so that students move from lesson to lesson, or grade to grade, based on the skills they master, rather than time. The bill’s author, Rep. Tim Brown, decided not to hear the bill in House Ways and Means because of the cost involved. This is the second year the bill has failed.