Preschool bill is one baby step for Hoosier-kind

It’s a start. A tiny one, for sure. But to use a cliché that for once is totally appropriate, you’ve got to walk before you can run. And in Indiana, we’re barely crawling when it comes to early childhood education.

House Bill 1004, which establishes a state-funded pilot program to help low-income parents send their children to preschool, was approved Thursday by the state House and Senate. The measure limits the program to five counties in its first year. It can be expanded later if lawmakers agree.

Best of all, the legislature dropped a provision that would have made participating preschoolers eligible for vouchers to attend private K-12 schools as they get older. As initially approved by the House, the bill had the potential to eventually make nearly half of Indiana students eligible for private-school vouchers.

Votes for the final version of the bill were 92-8 in the House and 40-8 in the Senate, with all the no votes by Republicans. It now goes to Gov. Mike Pence, who can sign it and claim the legislature approved one of his signature initiatives. Continue reading

Lawmaker: Board of Education disregarded legislative intent with IREAD-3

Was the Indiana State Board of Education just complying with the wishes of the Legislature when it adopted a rule last year that says third-graders must be retained if they don’t pass a reading test? Not according to the author of the bill in question.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, told School Matters that lawmakers clearly weren’t saying kids should be held back on the basis of their performance on a single test.

“The state superintendent and board of education essentially usurped what we said we wanted done as a legislature,” he said. “They went beyond the intent of the legislation.”

Porter was chairman of the House Education Committee in 2010, and in that role he was the lead sponsor of HEA 1367 – also known as Public Law 109 — which called for for improving reading skills for students in primary grades.

The legislation, Porter said, was a compromise that reflected strong reservations about the push by Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett to require students to pass a reading test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. It said retention should be used only as a last resort.

Porter said lawmakers were aware of research showing that students who are held back are much less likely to graduate from high school, and they also questioned implementing such high-stakes accountability when Indiana trailed other states in funding early-childhood education. Continue reading

Politics prevail as Indiana House passes school voucher bill

The Indiana House passed the controversial school voucher bill on Wednesday, just two days after a report from Wisconsin threw cold water on the claim that vouchers will improve educational opportunities for students.

The House voted 56-42, mostly along party lines, for the measure, House Bill 1003. Three Republicans — Tom Saunders, Phil Hinkle and Wendy McNamara – joined 39 Democrats in voting no. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it may face a more skeptical and less partisan reception.

The Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice hailed the House vote, saying the bill, if passed into law, would create “the nation’s broadest voucher program, allowing low- and middle-income families to use taxpayer funds to send their children to the private school of their choice.”

While most voucher programs in the U.S. are targeted to urban areas, failing schools and poor children, the Indiana bill would give state money to any low- and middle-income parents who transfer their children to private schools, including religious schools. Families would be eligible if their income is up to 150 percent of the cutoff for reduced-price school lunches – about $62,000 for a family of four.

The bill limits the number of vouchers to 7,500 in 2011-12 and 15,000 in 2012-13. It requires private schools that accept vouchers to take part in state accountability and teacher-evaluation programs.

House Democrats tried to moderate the bill with dozens of amendments, but Republicans shot them down, one after another. This was on Tuesday, the same day the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Continue reading