Bill would share referendum funds with charter schools

Legislation to force school districts to share money from property-tax referendums with charter schools is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The measure, House Bill 1072, says funding from future operating and school-safety referendums must be shared with charter schools attended by students who live in the school district. Its author is Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the influential chair of the House Education Committee.

An analysis by the state’s Legislative Services Agency suggests the bill could shift about $25 million a year from school districts to charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. The impact would be most pronounced in cities with many charter schools, like Indianapolis and Gary. It would not apply to online charter schools or “adult high schools” like Goodwill Industries’ Excel Centers.

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History ‘lives in us’ despite lawmakers’ efforts

The novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Someone should remind Indiana legislators, who are trying to nail down what students can learn about history.

They seem to think history and the past are a set of indisputable facts, frozen in amber. Yes, historical facts exist, but our understanding of them and our relationship with them is always changing.

“No historian will stray from the facts,” Indiana University historian Eric Sandweiss told me. “And yet every history student and scholar know they are building on the facts. They are finding new facts that haven’t been found before, and they are seeing them and connecting them in new ways.”

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Lawmakers to consider restrictions on teaching about race

Legislation aimed at preventing students – including high school and college students – from being exposed to certain ideas about race and American history will be discussed this week at the Statehouse.

Bills have been filed in both the House and Senate to set parameters for teaching and learning about race, sex, religion and other potentially divisive topics. One of them, Senate Bill 167, is set for a hearing Wednesday morning before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Indiana Statehouse

The first thing to know about these bills is that they aren’t original or unique to Indiana. They are part of a coordinated national campaign against so-called critical race theory, with similar versions having been filed or passed in dozens of states. The language is copied from an executive order by former President Donald Trump and from “model bills” promulgated by right-wing advocacy groups.

The second thing to know is that they are, at best, a solution in search of a problem. The folks pushing them seem to think Hoosier teachers are woke activists pushing a leftist agenda centered on identity politics. They aren’t. Teachers are like everyone else: some are liberal, some are conservative – some are very conservative – and many don’t care about politics.

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Virtual charter school case in court this week

A Hamilton County court hearing this week may determine whether Indiana taxpayers have a chance to recover $154 million from two virtual charter schools and their leaders and business partners.

The hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before Hamilton Superior Court Judge Michael Casati, concerns motions to dismiss a lawsuit to recover charter school funds that were allegedly obtained by fraud or improperly spent.

Attorney General Todd Rokita filed the suit in July 2021 on behalf of the state. Defendants include the schools — Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy — and several of their officers and employees. Also named are businesses that were affiliated with the schools.

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Graduation rates declined

It’s not surprising that Indiana high school graduation rates declined in 2021. It’s probably a little surprising that they didn’t decline more than they did.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for public and charter schools was 86.69%. That’s down one percentage point from the 2020 rate.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruption to schooling in 2020-21. Some high school seniors no doubt adapted well to online or hybrid classes, but others didn’t. We heard stories of students who gave up on school, sometimes to work or care for siblings. An analysis by the state DOE found 2020-21 disruptions had an academic impact ranging from moderate to significant for Hoosier students. You’d expect the graduation rate to drop.

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1619 belongs in classrooms

We remember the canonical years from our American history classes: 1492. 1776. 1861-65. It’s past time to add 1619 to the list. I just read the 1619 Project book, and I’m convinced.

It was in August 1619 that Jamestown, Virginia, colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. “They were among the more than 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in the book’s introductory essay.

Image of The 1619 Project book cover.

Arguably no event had a more pivotal and long-lasting impact on the United States. As the 1619 Project makes clear, chattel slavery and the accompanying doctrine of white supremacy shaped American history and American attitudes, and they continue to do so today.

“The story of Black Americans cannot be disentangled from the story of America, and our attempts to do so have forced us to tell ourselves a tale full of absences, evasions and lies,” writes Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and lead author.

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Indiana falls short on school funding effort

Indiana just doesn’t try hard enough. That’s a key message from an annual report on school funding from the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

When it comes to “fiscal effort,” one of the report’s measures of K-12 funding, Indiana lags behind most other states. We spend just 3.06% of our gross state product on K-12 education, compared to a national average of 3.45%. Indiana ranks 36th among the states for fiscal effort.

It wasn’t always that way. In 2007, Indiana spent a respectable 3.73% of its economy on K-12 schools, the report says. Then came the Great Recession. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels, the state slashed funding for schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett declared this was a “new normal,” and schools should just get used to it. Indiana fell far behind its peers for teacher pay.

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The wrong questions

We’re asking all the wrong questions about the shooting last week at a Michigan high school that killed four students and injured seven, some critically:

Here’s the right question: Why can just about any American adolescent get his hands on a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol? Furthermore, why do we no longer even think this question is worth asking?

Why did he do it? It’s natural to wonder, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s not like understanding the warped psychology of one school shooter will help us stop the next one. There are 60 million K-12 students in this country; no one should be surprised that a few are capable of horrific actions.

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Surveys go heavy on school issues

Look for Indiana legislators to spend their 2022 session trying to mandate partisan school board elections and restrict political discussions in the classroom. They may also want to ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports and demand disclosure of teachers’ lesson plans.

That’s my conclusion from reviewing issues surveys posted online by House Republicans. While the surveys are ostensibly to get constituent input, they also let lawmakers field-test ideas for legislation.

Statehouse
Indiana Statehouse

About half of the 71 House Republicans have posted their surveys. Using identical, canned language, they ask about vaccine mandates, tax cuts and other topics, but K-12 education seems to dominate. For example, a large majority ask if constituents would support “greater election transparency” by requiring school board candidates to declare their political party affiliation.

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Indy clergy call out attorney general

Thanksgiving is a few days past, but I’m feeling especially thankful today for the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis. They’ve had the courage to call out Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita for his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and so-called critical race theory.

The group’s president, the Rev. David Greene Sr., told Indiana Public Media’s Jeanie Lindsay that Rokita’s comments are racist and based on misinformation, and they undermine efforts to make students of color feel safe, welcome and supported.

“They are divisive, while he’s trying to claim that he’s trying to keep that from happening – his remarks are offensive to those of us who are people of color,” Greene said. “We know a dog whistle, we know language that is not really meant for Black and Brown people.”

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