Update: The House Education Committee approved HB 1421 by a vote of 8-5. That sends it to the full House for possible amendments and further consideration. If it passes the House, it will go to the Senate for more of the same. Supporters said the bill is a “work in progress” that needs to be revised to ensure that it’s effective. But they said punitive discipline is a serious issue that lawmakers should address.
Indiana child advocates are promoting legislation that would discourage schools from suspending and expelling students and encourage “positive discipline strategies” that keep students in school.
The legislation, House Bill 1421, is scheduled to be heard this morning by the House Education Committee. It would revise state law on school discipline to prioritize positive, research-based approaches, including restorative justice and culturally responsive practices.
“Our interest is in keeping kids in school and preventing them from going into the criminal-justice system,” said JauNae Hanger, president of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana.
The legislation calls on school corporations to create policies that reduce suspensions and expulsions and address disparities in how students are disciplined. It says students should be removed from school only for serious offenses, not for being tardy or skipping school. Students should be arrested or referred to law enforcement only to protect public safety, the bill says.
No wonder Gary and Muncie community schools are distressed. Both Indiana school districts have had their budgets cut dramatically over the past decade. It’s not surprising they’ve struggled to pay the bills.
Muncie’s general fund, the part of the budget that pays educator salaries and most operating expenses, was reduced from $55.4 million to $42.5 million over the past six years, according to figures from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. That’s a 23 percent cut.
Gary’s decline has been even more stark. Its general fund budget dropped by more than half, from $104.4 million in 2011 to $50.1 million in 2017.
The state declared last year that the districts were financially distressed; oversight of the schools has been turned over to the state’s Distressed United Appeals Board, and they are being run by emergency managers. This year, legislation making its way through the Indiana House would put Ball State University in charge of Muncie Schools. In both cities, elected school boards are being marginalized.
Only 56 percent of school-age children who live in the Indianapolis Public Schools district attend IPS schools. The rest attend charter schools, receive vouchers to attend private schools or transfer to public schools in other districts.
In Gary, it’s even worse. Only 39 percent of school-age children who live in the district attend Gary Community Schools. More Gary students attend charter schools than local public schools.
These figures include only students whose schooling is funded by the state, not those who attend private schools and don’t receive vouchers. They are among the findings of the first Public Corporation Transfer Report, a revealing report released last week by the Indiana Department of Education..
And when students transfer out of their local school district to attend other public schools, charter schools or private schools, it matters. Districts lose funding when they lose students, and declining enrollment is one reason IPS, Gary and other urban districts have struggled financially.
In those cities, the growth of charter schools and state-funded vouchers for private schools have been driving the decline in enrollment. But elsewhere, a bigger factor has been the de facto inter-district open enrollment that was created when the state took responsibility for funding school operations several years ago. In some areas, students transfer so much that district boundaries seem almost meaningless.
The Indiana Department of Education spent seven months holding community meetings, sitting down with teachers and school administrators and collecting public input for the state’s plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
Now the State Board of Education is poised to upend that work and reconfigure a key section of the ESSA plan, one that describes how Indiana will calculate A-to-F grades used for school accountability.
The board could give preliminary approval to its version of the accountability rule Wednesday. Then it would conduct one public hearing and set a time for written comment, after which it could approve the rule effective for the 2018-19 school year.
The proposed changes, posted late last week, came as a surprise to Indiana Department of Education staff and the educators who had been working with the department. DOE spokesman Adam Baker said educators bought into the ESSA plan because they were involved in creating it.
The most effective school districts in Indiana aren’t the affluent suburban districts that produce the highest test scores year after year. Instead many are smallish, rural districts that don’t get much attention outside of their own communities.
That’s according to data from Stanford professor Sean Reardon, whose research shows how well the nation’s school districts did at improving test scores over a five-year period.
The results “defy how we typically think about wealth and education in America,” the New York Times said in a report on Reardon’s work. Students in affluent districts do tend to score higher on standardized tests; but when it comes to year-to-year growth, schools doing a good job are nearly as likely to serve many poor students.
“Many districts with high average test scores have low growth rates, and vice versa,” Reardon writes in a working paper. “And many low-income districts have above average growth rates.”
In Indiana, the standouts include Elkhart, Brownsburg, Middlebury, South Vermillion, Blackford County, Southwest (Sullivan County), Speedway, South Adams and Eastern Greene. Other than exemplary student growth, there’s nothing obvious that those districts have in common.