ISTA priorities go beyond state budget

Improved school funding is at the top of the Indiana State Teachers Association’s 2017 legislative agenda. But it’s not all about the money. Also high on the list are supporting students who experience childhood trauma or developmental delays and helping teachers get better at what they do.

The ISTA also wants to put less emphasis on standardized tests, hold schools harmless for low grades until testing glitches are sorted out, improve teacher salaries and check the growth of private school vouchers and charter schools.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith answers questions.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith answers questions.

“All of these proposals are part of putting kids first in Indiana, making kids our first priority,” said ISTA president Teresa Meredith, who unveiled the agenda Wednesday at the Statehouse while appealing to lawmakers to focus on the more than 90 percent of Indiana students who attend public schools.

A top ISTA priority, Meredith said, is helping schools implement “trauma-informed care,” which recognizes and responds to the impact that adverse childhood experiences – such as abuse or neglect, family violence, substance abuse, mental illness and divorce — can have on development. The ISTA wants the legislature to create a safe and supportive schools program and fund training grants for educators.

Meredith cited reports that 26 percent of children experience a traumatic event before age 4 and research that finds childhood trauma linked to poor school outcomes, later mental health and substance abuse issues and a shorter life span.

“Trauma-informed care changes the way school provide services,” Meredith said. “Instead of asking ‘What is wrong with this child?’ the question should become ‘What has happened to this child?’”

Another top priority: Changing state guidelines so children can be identified as developmentally delayed until age 9, allowing schools to provide extra services short of special education. Current State Board of Education rules recognize developmental delay as a condition that merits special education services from ages 3 to 5. Federal rules let states recognize developmental delay until age 9, the ISTA says.

Meredith also emphasized a proposal to provide financial incentives for teachers to pursue National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. Board-certified teachers improve their own teaching and that of their peers, she said. Indiana has fewer than 200 board-certified teachers.

Also part of the ISTA legislative agenda:

  • Expand Indiana’s popular pre-kindergarten pilot project by providing funding for public schools to establish and run preschool programs.
  • Reduce the use of high-stakes standardized tests and suspend A-to-F school grades while Indiana continues to adapt to new standards and assessments.
  • Provide a separate budget line to fund private-school tuition vouchers rather than diverting money from appropriations for public schools.
  • Repeal the law that allows for up to $9.5 million in tax credits for contributions to “scholarship granting organizations,” which fund scholarships that make students eligible for vouchers.
  • Add transparency and accountability requirements for charter schools.

Arguably the biggest education-related matter facing the legislature is approval of a two-year state budget, which will include about $7 billion a year in funding for school operations. That’s the lion’s share of the budget, but the ISTA points out that school funding in Indiana hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

Indiana ranks third from the bottom among the states in per-pupil education spending, according to National Education Association data. (Other sources, such as Census data, show Indiana ranking low but not at the bottom). According to the NEA, teacher salaries in Indiana are well below average, and Hoosier educators have seen the nation’s second-worst decline in pay over the past 10 years.

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