deja vu

Plan to allow more unlicensed educators dies again. Can the surviving bill fix teacher shortages?

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Third grade teacher Alyssa Roberts works on her lesson plan at Tindley Renaissance School. The bill's previous language would have let districts hire unlicensed teachers like charter schools can.

A controversial measure that would have allowed school districts to hire more unlicensed teachers appears to be dead this session, leaving behind a bill that some lawmakers and advocates say does little to address the state’s teacher shortage.

The measure, which would have allowed districts to have up to 10 percent of their staff be unlicensed, has been added and removed from Senate Bill 387 several times this year and was removed altogether Monday by its author, Sen. Andy Zay, a Republican from Huntington.

Zay said he and other lawmakers decided to remove the language both because college graduates can already get emergency permits from the state to teach and because he didn’t want to add even more regulations and permits to Indiana’s roster.

“There are nine different licenses available now and/or permits to allow folks to come into our classrooms,” Zay said. “We have a lot of availability right now.”

The remaining parts of the bill make small changes to licensure and pay scales that aim to attract and retain teachers, but they’re not necessarily the kinds of measures that could reverse teaching shortages across the state, said Rep. Vernon Smith, a Democrat from Gary.

“We’re not getting to the root of the problems,” Smith said.

A former principal, Smith said he believes there are three reasons more people aren’t pursuing teaching: Pay, discipline issues in schools, and the recently criticized teacher licensure tests, which some educators and prospective teachers have said are too difficult and are keeping potentially qualified teachers out of the classroom.

In 2017, 6,160 college graduates earned an initial practitioner license, the credential that first-time teachers, administrators and other educators need to work in an Indiana school — up by about 35 percent compared to 2016, when 4,552 earned it, according to state data. The 2017 number isn’t just teachers, but also includes two superintendents, 612 principals, 149 school counselors, 33 psychologists and 32 social workers.

Although the state has issued more educator licenses over the past few years, educators have still come to lawmakers saying they struggle to find teachers in certain subjects, such as math, technical subjects and special education.

Indiana lawmakers turned their attention to reducing teacher shortages in 2015, when initial licenses hit a low point and news of a statewide shortage heightened concerns despite mixed data about how pervasive the shortage might be. But that next year, legislators failed to pass several bills that intended to address shortages by changing teacher mentoring programs and pay, among other things. The only measure to pass was a smaller-scale scholarship bill for high-achieving students across the state to go to college each year to become teachers.

Since then, a few other bills have passed that would require the state to grant Indiana licenses to teachers licensed in other states and allow districts to offer extra pay to those who teach advanced courses and who agree to mentor new teachers.

Zay said he thought this year’s bill wasn’t “the be-all, end-all,” but that it laid the groundwork for the state to continue examining its teacher licensure policy going forward.

With just three days left in this year’s legislative session, it’s not uncommon that legislators make swift, sweeping revisions to bills so that they have a chance of advancing. The teacher licensing language, which is similar to existing law for charter schools, has seen a lot of community feedback, much of it negative. The state’s teachers unions opposed the bill, as has former state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who encouraged the state instead to support existing paths to licensure.

Union advocates spoke against a provision still in the bill that would allow districts to give certain teachers extra pay, an issue that’s been hotly debated in Indiana for years. Like teachers of advanced courses, elementary teachers who earn master’s degrees in math, reading or literacy could also receive an extra stipend. That money would not necessarily recur year after year, and it would not be able to be negotiated.

“You’re trying to fix a problem … that cannot be fixed solely with the supplemental pay issue,” said Sally Sloan, lobbyist for the Indiana Federation of Teachers. “Every year you are going to need to come back and put another category in there unless we address why people are not coming into teaching or why they are not staying.”

Separately, districts would still have the flexibility to give some teachers larger raises than others if unions agree to it in contract negotiations. The measure might encourage younger teachers with lower base pay to stick with teaching, administrators said. Teachers unions said they supported this measure.

Zay said State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick originally came to him with the idea for the legislation, which was reflected in her 2018 legislative agenda. Initially, the bill mostly addressed teacher licensure exams. In the compromise version of the bill, the Indiana Department of Education would still have to study other licensure test options, including national tests.

The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit, which was created to attract career-changers to the teaching field who might have expertise in other subjects.

Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican, asked to add back a House proposal that would require career specialists 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.

The permit changes could make it easier for some prospective teachers to gain licenses, particularly those from technical fields where a college degree might not be required. But they also ensure a teacher has training in more than just their content area, a priority educators have pushed as licenses have undergone changes in the past few years.

The new version of the bill must still pass both houses before it could become law. Lawmakers are expected to adjourn Wednesday.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

These are the 13 education bills poised to become law in Indiana in 2018

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

Despite a chaotic end to this year’s legislative session, lawmakers managed to push through several education bills that could bring changes for teachers, students and schools.

And it’s not quite over either.

Lawmakers ran out of time before their midnight deadline last week, leaving behind several major bills, including a bill that would expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie school districts. On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he’d be calling for a special session so they could revisit that issue and others.

In non-budget year, it can be hard to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. This year, the biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to 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.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

State takeover plans for Gary and Muncie could be revived as Indiana lawmakers return in May

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed reporters Monday. He's asking lawmakers to return for a special session in May.

Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse this May after an unusual summons Monday from Gov. Eric Holcomb, and it’s possible they could revisit a controversial plan to expand state takeover of the Gary and Muncie school districts.

But Holcomb said the takeover plan should not be pushed through during a special session and should be acted upon next year. It’s been more than a decade since lawmakers held a special session in a non-budget year.

“I would prefer to wait,” Holcomb said. “I don’t believe that it rises to the level of urgency to be dealt with right now.”

The regular legislative session ended in chaos last week, with lawmakers leaving this and several other important bills unresolved when the clock ran out.

Republican lawmakers have been largely supportive of the takeover plan, and so they could revive the issue despite Holcomb’s stance. Holcomb said discussions would happen this week over what issues could be addressed during the special session.

House Bill 1315 sparked heated debate right up until the final minutes of the 2018 legislative session. The bill would have given control of Muncie schools to Ball State University and stripped power from the Gary school board. Another part of the bill would have developed an early warning system to identify districts in financial trouble.

On Thursday, House Speaker Brian Bosma said the bill was one of the important issues left on the table when the legislature had to adjourn.

But Senate President David Long also noted that the bill has been massively unpopular in some circles — Democrats were strongly opposed to it, as were teachers unions and some educators and community members.

Both Republican leaders said in statements Monday that they supported the governor’s special session request. But John Zody, the Indiana Democratic Party chairman, derided the move as wasteful and a reflection of lawmakers’ inability to finish their work on time.

“Republican leadership incompetently steered session into a wall on the last lap,” Zody said in a statement. “Now they’re asking taxpayers to foot the bill for another shot at passing their do-nothing agenda.”

Holcomb said his biggest priorities during the special session would be getting a $12 million loan from the state’s Common School Fund to Muncie schools to deal with financial difficulties stemming from declining enrollment and mismanagement of a bond issue. That loan was originally a provision in the House bill.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said Monday morning that she also would support action to get Muncie schools the money they were promised. McCormick also said the early warning system could be helpful to prevent these situations in the future.

“We want Muncie to be successful,” McCormick said, adding that anything the state can do to be proactive “and get people help so we’re not dealing with more Muncies and Garys” is a good thing.

The special session could come with a steep price tag for Indiana taxpayers. Micah Vincent, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said early estimates for calling lawmakers back into session could be about $30,000 per day. But that cost “is dwarfed by the cost of inaction,” Holcomb said. It’s unclear how long the special session could last.

The governor also said he wanted to prioritize school safety legislation, another measure that didn’t get final votes before time ran out. He is calling for lawmakers to direct $10 million over the next two years to the state’s Secured School Fund. The money would allow districts to request dollars for new and improved school safety equipment and building improvements.

His plan comes in the wake of a shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty members were killed last month.

The shooting also sparked activism across the country, with thousands of students protesting against gun violence in schools and calling for stricter gun regulations. Last Wednesday, many Hoosier students joined the national movement by walking out of school.