Indiana school officials remain cautious and conservative about asking voters to increase local property tax rates to fund schools – even though state funding for education continues to lag. Only seven school districts had school-funding referendums on the ballot last week, and five of them passed.
Terry Spradlin, director for education policy with the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, said the numbers suggest district leaders have become strategic about asking for money. They’re learning when to ask and when not to ask.
Indiana’s current system of relying on voters for some school-funding decisions dates from 2008. School referendums come in two flavors: 1) general fund questions, which levy property taxes to supplement the state funding that’s supposed to pay for school operations; and 2) construction questions, which determine whether schools can borrow for construction or large-scale renovation projects.
Last week, there were four general fund referendums: Barr-Reeve, Munster and Union Township passed, and Boone Township failed (Union Township and Boone Township are small districts in Porter County). There were three construction referendums: Hamilton Southeastern and Noblesville passed and Knox schools in Starke County fell short.
The five-for-seven success beats the state’s historic average by a long shot. Since 2008, there have been 88 school funding referendums in Indiana. Forty-two have passed and 46 failed, according to the detailed scorecard on the CEEP website. Continue reading
The setting was significant Thursday when Gov. Mike Pence signed House Bill 1003, which expands Indiana’s school voucher program. He signed it at Calvary Christian School, a small Pentecostal school on the south side of Indianapolis that enrolls voucher students.
The governor praised the voucher expansion for giving more “choice” to parents and students. However, you can only choose Calvary Christian if it chooses to let you in. “Families expect a higher level of achievement and behavior at CCS,” the school’s handbook says, “and as such the admission process requires that incoming students’ records be carefully reviewed.”
What about children with special needs? “We do not have the staffing to educate children that are in special needs classrooms,” says an FAQ on the school’s website.
And what will students learn? According to the website, the curriculum includes textbooks from fundamentalist Bob Jones University Publishing, which feature creationism based on a literal reading of the Christian Bible and an ideologically slanted view of America’s place in the world. Continue reading
A key question rarely got asked this spring as Indiana legislators debated whether to stick with the Common Core State Standards initiative: What do teachers think?
Now we’ve got an answer. According to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s teachers overwhelmingly support the standards.
The AFT released results from a nationwide teacher survey on Common Core last weekend at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association. It found that 75 percent of teachers support their states’ decisions to adopt the standards.
On the other hand, many teachers said their schools aren’t doing enough to help them prepare. And more than four in five back AFT President Randy Weingarten’s call for a one-year moratorium on high-stakes testing based on the standards. Of course, Indiana teachers may or may not agree with teachers in other states.
The AFT survey included 800 teachers in the 45 states that have adopted Common Core and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. It was conducted in March, around the time Indiana lawmakers were debating whether to put the brakes on the standards.
The legislature finally approved House Bill 1427, which calls for a “pause” implementing the standards Continue reading
It looks like the Indiana General Assembly is racing to finish its work by midnight – even though, by law, it could wrap up next Monday. That means there will be a vote by tonight on House Bill 1003, which greatly expands Indiana’s controversial and almost uniquely generous private-school voucher program.
The final version of the bill hasn’t yet been posted on the legislature’s website. But Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education says a House-Senate conference committee approved it Thursday, apparently after Democratic members were removed from the panel and replaced by Republicans.
The conference committee bill, Smith says, expands the voucher program to include income-qualified students who live in the attendance area of a school that gets a D or F on the state’s A-to-F grading system. That’s almost 400 schools – nearly one in every five public schools in the state.
When the Senate approved HB 1003 two weeks ago, the expansion included only F schools. And the vote then was close, 27-23. By rights it should be close again today.
Here’s key question for lawmakers: Why be in such a hurry? Continue reading
A legislative conference committee on the bill that would expand Indiana’s school voucher program is scheduled to meet this afternoon. But don’t expect much news – or much progress at resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Typically these initial committee meetings are a chance for members to stake out their public positions and posture a bit. Then deals get done behind closed doors.
In this case, the House approved a version of the bill, House Bill 1003, that would make private-school vouchers available to children of military personnel, veterans and foster parents, without regard to family income. For those families, the House would drop the current requirement that students first spend a year in public school to qualify.
Under the less expansive Senate version, the year-in-public-school rule would be eliminated for students with disabilities, siblings of current voucher recipients, and private-school students who live in the attendance area of a public school that gets an F on the state’s grading system.
Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s original sponsor, balked at the Senate amendments. That sent the measure to a conference committee, ostensibly to work out a compromise.
Each conference committee starts with one Democrat and one Republican from each chamber. Continue reading
Indiana House members applauded Thursday after they removed a loaded-gun-in-every-school mandate from Senate Bill 1, according to news reports. And why not? Arguably they had just stood up to the National Rifle Association.
Not on the record. There was no roll call on the amendment to disarm the bill, so no one was recorded casting an anti-gun vote. Deniability was maintained.
SB 1 is Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s proposal to help schools hire school resource officers, law enforcement officers stationed in schools to help maintain security. But in the House Education Committee, Rep. Jim Lucas got it amended to require that someone in every public and charter school in the state – if not a security guard, then a teacher – carry a loaded firearm at all times. The amendment mirrored recommendations from the NRA, which urged members to tell their representatives to vote for the amended bill.
Lucas said his intent was to prevent mass school shootings. “With Sandy Hook, with Virginia Tech, with Columbine — those were places that were gun-free zones, and we see the results of that,” he told Indiana Public Media. “This bill is trying to prevent that.” In fact, two armed officers were at Columbine High School but weren’t able to prevent the 1999 tragedy at that school. Virginia Tech had 34 police officers on duty Continue reading
The bad news for Indiana supporters of public education is that the state Senate voted Wednesday to expand the state’s already generous school voucher program.
The good news: At least the vote was close.
Ten Republicans joined all 13 Democrats in the Senate to vote against House Bill 1003. The tally was 27-23. Bucking party leadership and standing with public schools were GOP Sens. Sue Landske, Jim Tomes, John Waterman, Vaneta Becker, Ronnie Alting, Ed Charbonneau, Susan Glick, Randy Head, Ryan Mishler and Ron Grooms.
Indiana gives private-school tuition vouchers to students whose families make up to 277 percent of the federal poverty level: $65,000 for a family of four. Until now, students have had to spend at least a year in a public or charter school to qualify. The bill passed by the Senate would lift that requirement for:
// Students who live in the attendance area of a school that gets an F on the state’s grading system.
// Siblings of students who currently receive vouchers.
// Students in special education. (And in their case, the income limit is 370 percent of the poverty level: $87,000 for a family of four).
Leaving aside questions about the appropriateness of handing over taxpayer money to unaccountable private schools – almost all of which are religious schools – the bill raises serious questions. How much will it cost? There’s no way to know how many more students will qualify for vouchers, or how many will take advantage. Continue reading