We’re at the midpoint of the 2014 Indiana legislative session. This week, the Senate will take up bills that were approved by the House and the House will consider bills passed by the Senate. It’s time to look at what kind of mischief our lawmakers are making.
- HB 1004 – This is arguably the best and worst education bill this year. Best because it creates a framework – finally – for Indiana to help fund preschool for low-income families. Worst because it opens yet another door to Indiana’s K-12 school voucher system. The House vote was 87-9, with most Democrats swallowing the poison pill of voucher expansion to keep alive the long-deferred hope of having Indiana join the 40 states that already fund preschool.
- HB 1047 – Says students who attend online charter schools must be allowed to participate in school sports for the public high school in whose district they live. You’d think Republican legislators who profess to support local control would think twice about issuing such a mandate. The vote was 51-44.
- HB 1064 – Calls for a “return on investment and utilization study” of career education programs. Part of Gov. Mike Pence’s education agenda, it passed by a vote of 94-0.
- HB 1321 – Lets Indianapolis Public Schools establish “innovation network schools” that could be run by charter school operators or by groups of IPS educators. Like charters, they would have autonomy in such areas as hiring practices and the length of the school day and year. The introduced bill would have barred collective bargaining for teachers at the schools; but it was amended to permit bargaining. Teachers’ unions still oppose it, and the vote was 54-37.
- SB 91 – Repeals Indiana’s 2010 adoption of the Common Core State Standards and requires the State Board of Education by July to adopt new standards that, among other things, are “the highest standards in the United States” and “maintain Indiana sovereignty.” Indiana Republicans have caught the anti-Common Core fever, and the 36-12 vote on this tracked closely to party lines. Common Core supporters say the new standards can align with CCSS; Core opponents say they’d better not.
- SB 113 – Sen. Jean Leising is back with her bill that requires Indiana schools to teach cursive writing. The Senate passed it, 39-9; but Rep. Bob Behning, who chairs the House Education Committee, says he won’t give it a hearing.
- SB 114 – Requires schools to excuse students for three days to attend the Indiana State Fair. The Senate vote for this was 28-21 while the House passed a very similar companion bill unanimously. That suggests supporters may push the Senate bill through the House rather than take the issue back to senators who are more protective of the 180-day school year.
- SB 264 – Pence’s “teacher choice” legislation would pay stipends to teachers who transfer to a school that got a D or F in the state’s school grading system. The version that the Senate approved, by a 34-14 vote, is better than the introduced bill, which could have rewarded a mediocre teacher for moving from a high-poverty, low-performing district school to a medium-poverty, high-performing charter school. There’s still no reason to think it will help students, though it could financially benefit a few adults.
- SB 282 – Allows private schools to get extra state funds for providing special-education services to students who receive state tuition vouchers. Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education explains why this bill isn’t necessary. He also questions whether private schools should get the money when they aren’t required to admit students with disabilities. The vote was 31-16.
- SB 321 – Another part of the governor’s agenda, it allocates state funding for charter schools to the school operators rather than to the individual schools. The idea is that charter school operators that run multiple schools in Indiana should be able to shift their dollars to where they’re most needed and pool resources to benefit all their schools. It passed, 35-13.
- SB 326 – Says it’s OK for teachers and students to say “Merry Christmas” and for schools to erect nativity scenes, etc., as long as they also put up a secular scene or symbol or something representing a religion other than Christianity. Approved 48-0, it promises to give a whole new meaning to the term “Christmas tree bill.”
The above list hits some of the highlights but, according to Chalkbeat Indiana, 43 education bills are still alive at the Statehouse. A lot could still happen.