Indiana education legislation is available online

The Daniels-Bennett education agenda is showing up in bills posted to the Indiana General Assembly’s website, and so are other school-related measures. Here’s a preliminary look, starting with the proposals backed by the governor and state superintendent:

HB 1337, teacher contracts: rewrites the collective bargaining law; creates a new system for evaluating teachers, including performance-based criteria; lessens seniority protections; limits bargaining to wages and wage-related benefits.

HB 1002, charter schools: establishes a state charter schools board; allows private colleges and mayors of second-class cities to sponsor charter schools; makes other changes to encourage charters.

SB 496 and HB 1250, “parent trigger” law: allows a majority of parents in a low-performing school to have it closed, convert it to a charter school, or use its funding to send their children to private schools.

HB 1249, early graduation: diverts school funding to college scholarships for students who finish high school early; directs the State Board of Education to establish procedures for completing school requirements by the end of 11th grade.

Here are other education-related bills that aren’t part of the official agenda:

HB 1238, referendum gag rule: restricts school corporations, school boards and school employees from advocating a tax increase to support schools.

SB 410, fund transfers: extends through 2012 the option that school corporations can transfer half their capital projects tax levy to support operating expenses.

SB 326, school board elections: requires board members to be chosen in partisan elections, running as representatives of political parties.

SB 171 and HB 1195, school start date: delays the start of the school year until after Labor Day (Senate) or Sept. 1 (House).

You can peruse legislation by category at the General Assembly website, where there are about 20 subcategories under “schools” and more bills are being posted every day. Keep in mind that bills can be debated and amended numerous times, in committees, the House and the Senate. Some of these may not even be considered. But the ones that make up the Daniels-Bennett agenda are likely to spark interesting discussions.

Pre-kindergarten: the missing piece in Indiana education reform

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett have proposed varied and aggressive education reforms for the state legislature to consider. One thing that’s missing: Any mention of early childhood education.

As the Indianapolis Star reported last week, Indiana trails most other states when it comes to including young children in its education system. It’s one of only eight states that provide zero funding for public pre-kindergarten programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“Of all the things you could do, preschool probably has the largest impact on school success,” Steve Barnett, co-director of the Rutgers University-based NIEER, told the Star’s Scott Elliott.

The advocacy group Pre-K Now cites studies that have found high-quality pre-kindergarten programs increase high-school graduation rates, improve scores on standardized tests, reduce crime rates and produce more productive adults. Every dollar invested in high-quality pre-K, it says, saves taxpayers $7.

The problem, of course, is finding that $1 to invest now, when the economy is struggling and state leaders are focused on keeping taxes low. “I think we as a state must do it,” Superintendent Bennett told the Star, referring to investing in early education. “But it is going to be very challenging to have it become part of this legislative agenda on the basis of money.”

The Star article also notes that Indiana doesn’t require kids to start school until the fall term of the school year in which they will turn 7 — later than two-thirds of the states. Schools have to offer kindergarten, but children aren’t required to attend.

Legislation has been introduced that would require students to start school in the year during which they will turn 6. But the bill may not go anywhere if lawmakers determine it will cost the state money.