State gets ready for take-over of low-performing schools

Twenty-three Indiana schools could be facing take-over by private management companies or other school turnaround agents under a rule that the State Board of Education is set to adopt Dec. 1.

That sounds like strong medicine, and it has stirred up some controversy in Indiana education circles. But Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett says it’s one of the prescriptions that the state legislature included in Indiana’s school accountability law, known as Public Law 221.

The law, passed in 1999, says an option for persistently low-achieving schools is “assigning a special management team to operate all or part of the school.” Other options include closing the schools and merging them with other schools, a DOE memo explains.

Schools can be considered for take-over if they have been in the lowest category of achievement and improvement – until recently called called academic probation – for six consecutive years.

“The state can no longer afford to turn a blind eye,” Bennett said in a message to school employees. “Instead, the state owes it to the students to try to turn around these schools. Continue reading

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MCCSC school referendum bucks the anti-tax tide

Voters in the Monroe County Community School Corp. district sent a strong message of support for public education in Tuesday’s election. They voted 61 percent to 39 percent to raise property taxes in order to provide stable school funding for the next six years.

This is remarkable, given the anti-tax and anti-government storm that was blowing through Indiana.

Similar school-funding referenda were voted down in nine of the 13 Indiana districts that tried them, according to the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. And a statewide ballot initiative to enshrine restrictive property-tax caps in the state constitution passed by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

It would be easy to conclude Bloomington and Monroe County make up an island of enlightened support for education in a red sea of taxophobia. But remember that, in 1999, MCCSC voters overwhelmingly rejected a school-funding referendum.

One difference this time was an aggressive and organized campaign to make the case for the tax increase, enlist supporters and get them to the polls. MCCSC Superintendent J.T. Coopman spoke about the referendum to every group that would listen. Volunteers canvassed neighborhoods, put out yard signs and made get-out-the-vote phone calls, just like in any political campaign.

They effectively delivered the message that the referendum was about “needs,” not “wants.” Continue reading