The 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly is under way, and that means debates on education policy are coming soon – though they won’t be anything like the fights over vouchers, charter schools, collective bargaining and teacher evaluations that lit up the 2011 session.
Terry Spradlin, education policy director with the Center on Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, listed several topics that lawmakers may tackle in the 10-week short session:
Appointed state superintendent – This is an issue that’s been kicked around for at least two decades: Should the state superintendent of public instruction be appointed by the governor? Or should voters continue to select Indiana’s chief state school officer?
Appointment advocates say the governor and superintendent should be on the same team. Opponents say it’s better to have an elected superintendent who can act as an independent advocate for education. (A CEEP policy brief from 2008 explores the pros and cons and compares Indiana’s governance system with those of other states).
Multiple count days – Indiana currently sets funding for schools on the basis of student enrollment on a single “count day” in early fall. If students leave a school district after that day, the district doesn’t lose any money. If students enroll after count day, the district doesn’t get any money to pay for them.
Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White has advocated for multiple counts. He has accused charter schools of “dumping” students and sending them back to IPS after they’ve been counted for funding purposes. Charter schools and private schools that receive state tuition vouchers also like the idea, which makes it worthwhile for them to accept transfer students year-round.
Grading schools on financial management – Indiana gives letter grades to schools based on the performance of students. Should it also grade districts according to how efficiently they use resources?
This idea grows out of the “65 percent solution” initiative, which called on schools to devote at least 65 percent of their spending to classroom costs. It’s a questionable approach. First, there’s no good way to classify whether money is spent “in the classroom.” Second, there are legitimate reasons why some districts spend more than others on administration, transportation, construction, etc. Third, advocates haven’t shown that more classroom spending produces better outcomes.
State takeover of schools – Currently, schools must earn an F from the state for six straight years to be subject to takeover. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett wants the state to be able to take control if a school earns an F for four straight years or Ds and Fs for five straight years. The State Board of Education endorsed quicker takeovers late last year. But the current six-year timetable is part of the state’s school accountability law, known as Public Law 221, so speeding up the takeovers would require a change in statute.
This could be contentious, especially when lawmakers realize how many schools have been getting Ds and Fs. Rep. Robert Boehning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Education Committee, pushed a similar change last year. It was one of the bills that House Democrats cited when they fled to Illinois to shut down the session.
Multiple count days and Public Law 221 revisions are part of Bennett’s legislative agenda, which the state superintendent announced Wednesday. He’s also supporting a requirement that students pass at least one online course to earn the state’s standard Core 40 high-school diploma.
Overall, it may seem like a fairly modest set of issues. But as Spradlin pointed out, Indiana schools have their hands full dealing with the reforms that the legislature passed in 2011. “I would assume superintendents, principals and teachers would prefer an opportunity to catch up,” he said.