Arts education grants available

Here’s a bit of good news in these days of tight funding for the arts in public schools. The organizers of ArtsWeek, a collaboration between Indiana University and the City of Bloomington, are reaching out to art teachers and encouraging them to apply for grants of up to $2,500.

“ArtsTeach” is the theme of the 27th annual ArtsWeek, which will take place in February 2011. “In a period of declining and strained resources for education, the ArtsWeek 2011 theme is intended to foster collaborations between K-12 teachers and students and IU units, arts organizations and/or area businesses that highlight the significance and impact of artistic activities on the lives of young people in our community,” said ArtsWeek coordinator Sherry Knighton-Schwandt in an IU news release.

The university’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research, which organizes ArtsWeek, is promoting the idea that teachers and their students can partner with an artist, arts organization or business to develop arts-education projects. Sept. 10 is the deadline to apply for the grants. More information and an application form are available at the ArtsWeek website.

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School ‘improvement’: a principal’s story

The New York Times had a heartbreaking story last week about the removal of a beloved, hard-working elementary school principal in Burlington, Vt. By all accounts, Joyce Irvine had done a fantastic job. But she was moved to a different job so the school district could qualify for $3 million in federal school-improvement grants, which require drastic measures to turn around low-performing schools.

Wheeler Elementary School, where Irvine was principal, has a 97 percent poverty rate, and about half of its students are foreign-born, many of them refugees from Africa who arrive speaking no English, according to the Times. It is being transformed to an arts magnet school, with the goal of attracting more middle-class students.

Aside from the refugee students, Wheeler sounds a lot like Bloomington’s Fairview Elementary School, where more than 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches Continue reading

More on Indiana school improvement grants, winners and losers, creativity

The Indiana Department of Education has awarded a second round of school improvement grants, and this time none of the more than $13 million is going to charter schools. Of course, two of the three charter schools that applied for the grants were funded in the first round. (Five of the 13 non-charters that applied have now been funded).

The DOE last week awarded $5.7 million to George Washington High School, $5.5 million to John Marshall High School and $2.5 million to Bendix School. Washington and Marshall are part of Indianapolis Public Schools; Bendix is an alternative school in the South Bend Community School Corp.

The grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, are designed to make dramatic improvement in the state’s lowest-performing schools. Washington and Marshall will implement a “turnaround” model of improvement, which includes replacing the principal and half the staff.

Real winners and losers

We wrote three weeks ago about the risk that “winners and losers” could result from Indiana’s growing reliance on local property-tax referenda to fund public schools. In Illinois, which relies heavily on local taxes to fund schools, according to federal data, there certainly are some winners. Continue reading

A funding slope, but not a cliff

Eric Knox of Support Our Schools has written a helpful analysis of Indiana’s budgetary and school-funding problems and their implications for the Monroe County Community School Corp. It’s posted on the Bloomington Online community forum.

His key point: The so-called “cliff effect” – the impact on education and other programs from the state’s loss of $2 billion in federal stimulus funds – may not be the problem that MCCSC Superintendent J.T. Coopman and other school officials have sometimes suggested. “The State of Indiana has a self-inflicted budget problem, but there is no $2 billion ‘funding cliff’ and 2012 is likely to be better than 2011,” writes Knox, who relies on budget data from Purdue professor Larry DeBoer’s website.

It’s true that Indiana was awarded $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars in 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the state has been using that money to balance its budget during the economic downturn. The money has been used to fund both education and the Medicaid health-care program. But by design, the funding was “front-loaded” — about half was budgeted in the first half of 2009 and Indiana’s reliance on stimulus is being gradually phased out.

In other words, the big drop in stimulus funding has already happened, and the decline is leveling out as the money nears zero. Continue reading

Bidders question Bennett/DOE contract connections

The Indianapolis Star reports some skepticism over the Indiana Department of Education’s $500,000 contract with Marian University — whose education department employs Tina Bennett, wife of education superintendent Tony Bennett — to direct a training program for Indiana principals. Principals who go through the program, dubbed the Turnaround Leadership Academy, will be assigned to lead rejuvenation efforts at low-performing schools. Tony Bennett announced the contract last week in a news release that also quoted Marian president Daniel Elsener, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education. The board oversees education policy making, raising further questions among critics about Marian University’s connections to state education leadership. The Department of Education said staffers gave Marian the top evaluation of the eight bidders.

‘Edujobs’ or Race to the Top?

Congress is debating legislation that would provide $10 billion to the states to avoid layoffs for an estimated 140,000 teachers next year. The measure is worth $207 million to Indiana, according to the Education Commission of the States.

But media coverage has focused almost entirely on the standoff between the Obama Administration and House Democrats over where money should come from to pay for the “Edujobs” bill.

The administration threatened a veto because, to help pay for the jobs measure, the House voted to cut spending for some of the administration’s signature education initiatives, including $500 million from the Race to the Top program and lesser amounts from federal Teacher Incentive Fund and Charter Schools programs.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been lobbying for the $10 billion teacher-jobs package, but not at the expense of Race to the Top. But House Democrats, especially Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, say cuts have to be made Continue reading

Monroe County: land of low (school) taxes

Here’s something to keep in mind with the approach of a November tax referendum to support the Monroe County Community School Corp.: Even if we pass the referendum, the MCCSC property-tax rate will still be well below the state average for schools.

Rates for 2010 for most local taxing units in Indiana are available in a report from the Department of Local Government Finance. It says that the average property-tax rate for Indiana school districts is $1.02 per $100 assessed property value. The MCCSC rate is 57 cents per $100 assessed value.

The referendum would give the school board the authority to increase the rate by as much as 14 cents. If nothing else changed, that would make the MCCSC property-tax rate 71 cents per $100 assessed value – still 30 percent lower than the state average.

It’s important to remember, of course, that school taxes aren’t the only property taxes we pay. There are additional property-tax rates for city, county and township government, public libraries, solid waste districts, etc.

It’s also noteworthy that, since the 2008 Indiana “property tax reform” legislation took effect, our property taxes don’t support the school general fund, Continue reading