Recapping the legislative session – sometimes inaction is OK

When it comes to education, the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly may be best remembered for the bills that died, not for the ones that passed.

Lawmakers did accomplish one notable deed, boosting state funding for full-day kindergarten to where parents will no longer have to pay for the privilege. To which we say: It’s about time.

As for what lawmakers didn’t do, the following measures were apparently given serious consideration but died a merciful death:

— Allowing school boards to mandate the teaching of “creation science”
— Prescribing standards for the singing of the National Anthem at school events
— Barring schools from starting fall classes before Labor Day
— Ordering a return to a single-class high school basketball tournament
— Requiring schools to teach cursive writing as part of the curriculum

You have to think that some legislators must have too much time on their hands to come up with such ideas.

Full-day kindergarten was part of House Enrolled Act 1376, which passed right before lawmakers adjourned early Saturday morning. It increased the state grant for full-day kindergarten to $2,400 per child – up from $1,190.60. Schools should no longer have to charge full-day kindergarten fees, which in some districts have exceeded $1,000. In fact, the bill prohibits such fees starting this fall.

Gov. Mitch Daniels identified full-day kindergarten as a priority six years ago, but it got sidetracked by economic difficulties and, some would argue, other priorities. “It’s been a long march, these last few years, but we’re really pleased and excited we were able to do this,” Daniels said at a media briefing.

Other education bills that passed — according to information from Terry Spradlin of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy — included:

HEA 1134 – Prohibits school districts from charging fees for transporting students to and from schools. This was prompted by a spat between Franklin Township Schools, which instituted a bus fee because of budgetary problems, and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who said such a fee was illegal.
HEA 1189 – Adds a spring-semester enrollment “count day” in February to determine how much money schools get from the state. Under the current system, enrollment is counted only once, in September, and school funding is fixed regardless of how many students transfer in or out.
HEA 1205 – Requires school districts to publicize the details of proposed superintendent contracts and conduct public hearings before approving the contracts.
SEA 268 – Establishes an advisory committee on early childhood education. Senate Democrats say this could prove a first step toward establishing a state-funded pre-kindergarten program – Indiana is currently one of a handful of states that don’t have one. But as with full-day kindergarten, it’s likely to take years.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s proposal for requiring students to pass at least one online course to graduate from high school didn’t make it through. Neither did another Bennett priority: Accelerating state takeover of schools that earn Ds and Fs in state ratings.

Just last year, Bennett and Daniels pushed through controversial legislation instituting private-school vouchers, revamping teacher evaluation, and gutting collective bargaining for teachers. But after the battle over right-to-work dominated the first half of the 2012 session, lawmakers seemed to lose their appetite for legislation that could be viewed as overtly partisan.

The failure of the takeover legislation appears to leave in place a conflict between Public Law 221, the 1999 state accountability law, and Indiana’s recent request for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind act. We’re checking with state education officials on whether they think that’s a problem.

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3 thoughts on “Recapping the legislative session – sometimes inaction is OK

  1. thanks for the recap, Steve. I don’t know if you saw it but Jay Greene has declared reform victory.

    A question though, what relation does the emergency manager bill have to any kind of “school failure,” if any? I mean do you see it as a useful tool supporting “take over” in all ways?

    http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/local-governments-may-get-to-ask-emergency-manager-for-financial/article_8de7cc49-8197-5908-879a-5861383f512e.html

    • Doug, thanks for pointing out this bill. As I read it, school corporations are specifically exempted from the emergency manager provision. It does look like there are some restrictions on what school corporations have to do financially if they reach the point of having to restructure their debt under this statute. I don’t see anything here that suggests the state would take over the schools or hand them to someone else to manage. It’s a fairly long bill and I’ve just had time to skim it so far.

  2. I think I can answer, Doug. In reading the bill itself, this looks like it’s not related to test-score-related takeover of a school. This is for the Franklin Townships of the world (http://indy.st/y7VUnD) who’ve been hit by sharp dropoffs in their property tax revenues (http://bit.ly/A98Slw). My read is that the local government entity in question in HEA 1192 is not the school, but the school *district. IPS isn’t being taken over, IPS *schools are being taken over. Within the school, the takeover effectively gives the turnaround operator the authority to hire whatever teachers they wish.

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