Lawsuit challenges charter approval by religious colleges

The Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County has gone to court to challenge a religious college’s authorization of a charter school in Ellettsville. The coalition filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court arguing that approval of the school was unconstitutional.

The complaint says Indiana violated the constitutional separation of church and state when it let Grace College and Seminary, an evangelical Christian school, authorize Seven Oaks Classical School. The arrangement violates the state constitution, it says, because the state pays money to Grace College.

Birch Bayh Federal Building and Courthouse, Indianapolis

Birch Bayh Federal Building and Courthouse, Indianapolis

“Charter schools are taxpayer-supported and take money away from our school corporations, so only state and local officials answerable to the public should be able to authorize them,” ICPE-Monroe County chair Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

Defendants are Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Charter School Board director James Betley and Seven Oaks Classical School. The lawsuit asks to have part of the state charter school law declared unconstitutional and Seven Oaks’ charter ruled invalid.

Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County is a local organization made up of parents, current and retired educators and community members that advocates for public schools. It is affiliated with the statewide Indiana Coalition for Public Education. Continue reading

Quick takes on the 2017 legislative session

A session of the Indiana General Assembly is kind of like a tornado. When it’s over, you crawl out of your shelter, look around and assess the damage.

Lawmakers finished their business and left the Statehouse on Saturday morning. Here’s a quick look at some of the wreckage they left on the education front.

School funding

The most important thing the legislature does for education is to allocate funding for schools. Education funding is the lion’s share of the state budget, but you can’t say lawmakers were very generous.

On average, per-pupil funding will increase by only 1.1 percent in 2017-18 and 1.3 percent in 2018-19. That’s not good enough. School funding in Indiana has never caught up to what it was before the Great Recession, and private school vouchers account for an ever-growing slice of the school funding pie.

The funding formula continues a recent trend of directing bigger funding increases to growing suburban schools and less money to urban and rural schools. Funding is down a lot for the complexity index, the part of the formula that boosts support for schools serving more poor children.

Appointed superintendent

Lawmakers delivered on a priority for Gov. Eric Holcomb: making superintendent of public instruction an appointed rather than an elected position. In a compromise between the House and Senate, the new system won’t take effect until 2025 and the appointed superintendent must be an Indiana resident.

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Legislation gives governor unusual power over education

Making the case that Indiana’s governor should appoint the superintendent of public instruction, House Speaker Brian Bosma said the “vast majority” of states have moved away from electing state education officials. That’s not entirely accurate.

It’s true that Indiana is one of just a dozen states that let the voters choose their chief state school officer, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. But seven states elect their state education boards, which typically appoint the state superintendent.

In fact, House Bill 1005 – approved by the legislature and sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb to be signed into law – would make Indiana one of only five states in which the governor has complete control of appointments of the state superintendent and members of the State Board of Education.

That’s a lot of authority to put in the hands of one person. And it’s a bit unusual in Indiana, where we insist on electing public officials all the way down to the township level. Continue reading

Appointed superintendent push is about politics

Indiana Republicans are determined to change state law so the governor can appoint the superintendent of public instruction. OK, but stop pretending this is about principle.

There’s some validity to the idea that the governor and superintendent should be on the same page regarding education policy. Governors from both parties, including current Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, have made that argument.

But advocates like House Speaker Brian Bosma are blowing smoke when they claim they just want to put the superintendent position and the Indiana Department of Education above politics. It could have the opposite effect.

You could say that Indiana went down this road before. In 2008, the popular and scrupulously nonpartisan superintendent Suellen Reed had served four terms and could have run again. But Gov. Mitch Daniels recruited a southern Indiana school administrator named Tony Bennett to replace her on the Republican ticket.

Bennett won and proceeded to implement an agenda of promoting charter schools and vouchers and weakening teachers’ unions. Continue reading

Meier: ‘We need to teach creative noncompliance’

Our 11th-grade American history teacher didn’t mince words. “I am going to teach you about democracy in an autocratic manner,” he said on the first day of class.

The stab at irony may have produced some smiles, but none of us expected it to be any different. Of course, he would be an autocrat. School was an autocratic institution. We all knew that.

Deborah Meier

Deborah Meier

Deborah Meier may have known it, but she didn’t accept it. The renowned progressive educator has spent her career not only preaching but practicing progressive, democratic principles at places like Central Park East schools in New York and Mission Hill School in Boston.

Speaking last week to an audience at the Indiana University School of Education, she said it’s odd that we send our kids to “thoroughly autocratic” schools and expect them to learn democratic citizenship.

“There are very few places where young people experience what democracy looks like,” she said.

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Discussions to focus on equity in local schools

Researchers have shown school choice via charter schools and private school vouchers is increasing the segregation of American schools by race and social class. That’s a worrisome and important finding, but schools were growing more segregated before the rise of choice, in part because of decisions we made as individuals and communities.

HMI symposium posterOne example is Bloomington, Ind., the small college town where I live. With relatively few black and Latino students, you can’t say the schools are segregated by race. But students from different socioeconomic groups are separated in different schools.

That’s the backdrop for discussions that will take place this week at the Harmony-Meier Institute’s third annual symposium. It will include conversations on local school equity issues on Thursday and a panel featuring legendary progressive educator Deborah Meier and Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick on Friday.

Thursday’s event celebrates the legacy of the late Indiana University education professor Ellen Brantlinger, who described class segregation in local schools in her 2003 book “Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage.”

The local school district has put more resources into high-poverty schools since then, but the basic situation continues. Students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch range from over 85 percent in one school to less than 7 percent in another. Not surprisingly, low-poverty schools tend to have higher test scores and consistently get As on the state’s school grading system, while high-poverty schools sometimes struggle.

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