Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana Democrats are frustrated takeover plans for Gary and Muncie have no end in sight

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Sen. Karen Tallian, a Democrat, addresses parents and students from Gary about House Bill 1315.

In a bill designed to deal with state takeover of the Gary and Muncie school districts, Indiana lawmakers took some small steps Thursday to appease concerns about loss of local control in the financially troubled school districts.

But opponents don’t think the changes go far enough.

Some of those additions approved in an extensive amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee include keeping the names of troubled districts secret until they are finalized to prevent a mass exit of students and teachers, something community leaders and advocates feared.

Republicans also included a measure that would allow remaining Gary School Board members to fill empty spots on the board, a small concession given that the board is still relegated to an advisory role. The Muncie board would be allowed to elect two local at-large members in 2022.

Many of the changes are small adjustments from earlier versions of the bill, but the original structure is still largely in place: The bill would expand the responsibilities of Gary’s emergency manager, allow Ball State University to take control of Muncie Schools and put in place a new system to help the state identify schools that could be on the way toward significant financial problems. The legislation builds on a Senate bill from last year that allowed the state to take over districts in financial trouble.

Under the new version, additional rules would be placed on districts once they are no longer considered “distressed.” In the two years after a district exits takeover, officials could not propose referendums to raise taxes, issue bonds, adopt a budget, or sign a lease without the approval of the Distressed Unit Appeals Board, a group set up to hear requests from districts they have identified for takeover.

Districts would also have to send copies of annual reports to the appeals board, including audits and financial and personnel reports, for four years after leaving takeover.

But the bill still doesn’t lay out a timeline or specific process for how a district could qualify to leave the state’s control, though the amendment did clarify that a district could petition to exit if it is bringing in more money than it spends. Initially, only an emergency manager could do that.

Democrats were disappointed and frustrated that no deadline for exiting state takeover was included, but seemed resigned to the fact that it would move ahead regardless. House Bill 1315 passed committee 9-4, along party lines.

“There are a number of things that are now in this amendment that make this bill a little better than it was,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, a Democrat from Portage. “However I have to say that we still cannot support the bill as amended.”

Tallian and other Democrats said it was important to know when the boards could be returned to the districts and hold local elections. Voter representation has been a concern for community members and local lawmakers, who believe that they are being disenfranchised by the bill.

“We believe that there should be a way out of this,” Tallian said. “This should not last forever.”

Read: Parents feel left out of the Gary takeover debate. This mom pushed to be included.

But Sen. Liz Brown, a Republican on the committee, said she wasn’t confident setting an end date was a good idea, particularly for districts that have struggled as much and dealt with as much financial mismanagement as Muncie and Gary.

“I’d love to be able to put a sunset on it,” Brown said. “But looking at the chronology at the Muncie school district, this cesspool didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to be righted any time soon.”

The amendment also didn’t resolve concerns from teachers unions that the Muncie district would no longer be required to have union representation. The district would be allowed to have a union if it so chose, but individual schools would be allowed to opt-out.

“We are still very concerned about the actions being taken by the state against local control and teachers’ voice in (House Bill) 1315,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “Although there have been some minor changes, we are still urging legislators to recognize Muncie teachers’ right to collectively organize.”

House Bill 1315 also has new language that would allow certain districts to sell empty school buildings before they set it aside for charter schools to lease or buy. That could open opportunities for Indianapolis Public Schools, the only district the bill’s language applies to, to sell Broad Ripple High School, which is closing this year.

The bill next heads to the full Senate.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana’s plan to measure high schools with a college prep test is on hold for two years

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Thanks to last-minute legislative wrangling, it’s unclear what test Indiana high schoolers will take for the next two years to measure what they have learned in school.

Lawmakers were expected to approve a House bill proposing Indiana use a college entrance exam starting in 2019 as yearly testing for high schoolers, at the same time state works to replace its overall testing system, ISTEP. But the start date for using the SAT or ACT was pushed back from 2019 to 2021, meaning it’s unclear how high schoolers will be judged for the next two years.

This is the latest upheaval in testing as the state works to replace ISTEP in favor of the new ILEARN testing system, a response to years of technical glitches and scoring problems. While a company has already proposed drafting exams for measuring the performance of Indiana students, officials now need to come up with a solution for the high school situation. ILEARN exams for grades 3-8 are still set to begin in 2019.

“Our next steps are to work with (the state board) to help inform them as they decide the plan for the next several years,” said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. “We take concerns seriously and we will continue doing all we can to support schools to manage the transition well.”

The delay in switching from the 10th grade ISTEP to college entrance exams for measuring high school students was proposed Wednesday night as lawmakers wrapped up the 2018 legislative session. Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author, said the change came out of a desire to align the testing plan with recommendations on high school tests from a state committee charged with rewriting Indiana’s graduation requirements.

It’s just the latest road bump since the legislature voted last year to scrap ISTEP and replace it with ILEARN, a plan that originally included a computer-adaptive test for grades 3-8 and end-of-course exams for high-schoolers in English, algebra and biology. Indiana is required by the federal government to test students each year in English and math, and periodically, in science.

The Indiana Department of Education started carrying out the plan to move to ILEARN over the summer and eventually selected the American Institutes for Research to write the test, a company that helped create the Common-Core affiliated Smarter balanced test. AIR’s proposal said they were prepared to create tests for elementary, middle and high school students.

Then, the “graduation pathways” committee, which includes Behning and Sen. Dennis Kruse, the Senate Education Committee chairman, upended the plan by suggesting the state instead use the SAT or ACT to test high schoolers. The committee said the change would result in a yearly test that has more value to students and is something they can use if they plan to attend college. Under their proposal, the change would have come during the 2021-22 school year.

When lawmakers began the 2018 session, they proposed House Bill 1426, which had a 2019 start. This bill passed out of both chambers and the timeline was unchanged until Wednesday.

In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Board of Education must decide what test high schoolers will take in 2019 and 2020 and how the state as a whole will transition from an Indiana-specific 10th grade ISTEP exam to a college entrance exam.

It’s not clear what approach state education officials will take, but one option is to go forward with AIR’s plan to create high school end-of-course exams. The state will already need a U.S. Government exam, which lawmakers made an option for districts last year, and likely will need one for science because college entrance exams include little to no science content. It could make sense to move ahead with English and math as well, though it will ultimately be up to the state board.

Some educators and national education advocates have raised concerns about whether an exam like the SAT or ACT is appropriate for measuring schools, though 14 states already do.

Jeff Butts, superintendent of Wayne Township, told state board members last week that using the college entrance exams seemed to contradict the state’s focus on students who go straight into the workforce and don’t plan to attend college. And a report from Achieve, a national nonprofit that helps states work on academic standards and tests, cautioned states against using the exams for state accountability because they weren’t designed to measure how well students have mastered state standards.

“The danger in using admissions tests as accountability tests for high school is that many high school teachers will be driven to devote scarce course time to middle school topics, water down the high school content they are supposed to teach in mathematics, or too narrowly focus on a limited range of skills in (English),” the report stated.

House Bill 1426 would also combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement and eliminates the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test.

It next heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk to be signed into law.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

A plan to expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie died, but 13 other education bills survived the 2018 session

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma talks with Democrats shortly before the session adjourned without passing several bills.

The Indiana legislature missed its best shot at passing a major education bill this session when lawmakers adjourned without taking a vote on legislation that would expand state takeover measures in two financially troubled Indiana school districts.

The clock literally ran out on the 2018 session early Thursday morning before either chamber held a final vote on the controversial proposal, House Bill 1315.

Democrats cheered the defeat of the measure at the end of a session they derided as a “disappointing dud,” and even Republicans acknowledged that the list of legislative priorities this year were “pretty slim.”

Democratic lawmakers from Gary and Muncie, two public school districts the state took over in an unprecedented move last year, vehemently opposed the bill, which would have stripped power from the Gary school board and handed control of Muncie over to Ball State University. Minority Leader Terry Goodin, from Austin, said he’s not confident the bill would have passed in its final form.

The takeover bill would also have put in place a new system to help the state identify schools that could be on the way toward significant financial problems.

“It’s unfortunate, but the republic will survive,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma. “If there was one bill the minority (party) really objected to, it was the Muncie/Gary school bill … We’ll have another year to think about it.”

It can be difficult during a non-budget year to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. But even in the 2016 “short session,” bills passed to repeal the state ISTEP test and create innovation network schools that allow districts to take advantage of charter-like partnerships.

The biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Several of the more pressing education bills that lawmakers approved this session were reactive — combining the state’s four high school diplomas into one, for example, in response to new federal education laws that would have ceased to count general diploma students as graduates. They also voted to change the state high school test to a college entrance exam in response to recommendations from the state “graduation pathways” committee that created new graduation requirements.

Other bills resulted in small steps forward on recurring issues that have come before lawmakers multiple times, such as a bill to require screening and services for students who might have dyslexia and another bill that, once a controversial provision that would let districts hire more unlicensed teachers was removed, adds in more categories of teachers who can receive stipends, a list that has been growing slowly for years.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to Gov. Eric Holcomb, where he can decide whether to sign them into law. You can find the status of all the bills introduced this year here, and Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

Graduation and workforce

Senate Bill 50 establishes the governor’s workforce cabinet, which would oversee job training efforts across the state. The cabinet would create a “career navigation and coaching system,” which all Indiana high schools would be required to participate in. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be a cabinet member.

House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. It makes several changes to state tests, replacing the state high school exam with a national college-entrance exam and eliminating the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. The final version of the bill also changes the timing of testing from earlier version. Students wouldn’t begin the new graduation pathways plan until 2021, so the same deadline was applied to switching to a college entrance exam for state accountability. Until then, state education officials will have to decide what annual test high schoolers take when students in grades 3-8 switch to the new ILEARN test next year.


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 this year and up to $75 million next year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts. The bill also calls for a study of virtual education programs within school districts.


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 K-12 students, by 2021. The bill also sets up a grant program to help 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 school districts to let parents examine any instructional materials dealing with sex education. It would also require schools to send out consent forms for sex ed classes, where parents could then opt students out of the class. If they do not, the students would still receive instruction.

House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science. It would also require the state education department to create an incentive program to reward teachers who earn the content area licenses.

Senate Bill 387 would allow districts to pay teachers different amounts and give special education and science teachers extra stipends in an effort to fill jobs. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers has been added and removed several times this year, and was killed for good in conference committee. The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit. Career specialists would have to pass an exam showing they understand how students learn and the practice of teaching, in addition to content exams. The bill also removes a provision from the current version of the permit that says a career specialist must have a bachelor’s degree in the area they wish to teach in.


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 to 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 2019, to employ at least one reading specialist trained in dyslexia, 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 and homeless youth education.