McCormick unbound

I don’t think Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has ever been shy about saying what she thinks, but she seems to have become even more outspoken since announcing in October that she won’t seek re-election when her term expires in January 2021.

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick

She called out legislators on several issues Wednesday in a Bloomington discussion sponsored by the Indiana Coalition of Public Education-Monroe County and the Monroe County Community School Corp.

School funding: McCormick said the school funding increase in the budget that the Indiana House has approved – just over 2 percent each of the next two years – isn’t enough. Low pay and working conditions are creating a severe teacher shortage, she said, and more money is needed. Thirty-five percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

Funding for charter schools: She took issue with a budget provision that doubles grants to charter schools for transportation, buildings and technology to $1,000 per student – at a cost to the state of $77 million over two years. “If we’ve got $77 million,” she said, “let’s put it in the pot for everybody.”

Indiana’s private-school voucher program: McCormick pointed out that the program was sold in 2011 as a way to help poor and minority students stuck in low-performing schools, but it has evolved into something quite different. Fifty-eight percent of voucher students never attended a public school. “Suburban whites are the ones taking advantage of it most,” she said. Continue reading

Hoosiers resisted school desegregation

After a handful of black students were assigned to attend a previously all-white school, about 80 percent of white students boycotted classes for 10 days. “White students and other demonstrators gathered every day to jeer and threaten black students.”

Little Rock Central High School in 1957? New Orleans Frantz Elementary School in 1960? Somewhere else in the South? No, the setting was Emerson High School in Gary, Indiana, and the year was 1947.

1949 school desegregation bill.

1949 Indiana school desegregation bill. (Indiana Historical Society).

The description is from Emma Lou Thornbrough’s book “Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century,” which devotes an entire chapter to the rocky history of school desegregation in the state. Gary school officials had decided to desegregate after racial tensions, including a strike in which white students demanded the removal of black students who attended separate classes at Froebel High School.

Schools in several of Indiana’s largest cities were formally segregated in the 1920s, the heyday of the Klan in the state. While Gary decided on its own to integrate, Indianapolis and Evansville continued to have racially segregated schools despite decades of objections from civil-rights advocates. Other cities, including Bloomington, had segregated elementary schools and integrated high schools.

In 1949, Democrats took control of the governor’s office and the House, and the state legislature passed a law prohibiting racially segregated schools. But school districts were given several years to comply; and in many communities, housing patterns meant most whites and blacks attended different schools.

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Another budget surprise

Indiana House Republicans want to double the grant that charter schools receive to pay for building, technology and transportation expenses from $500 to $1,000 per student.

The proposal is included in the amendment to the budget bill that the House Ways and Means Committee approved this week. Like an expansion of the voucher program, it didn’t go through the House Education Committee and wasn’t discussed as a change in education policy.

The state has been paying $15 million a year for the grant program. With the increase, it could pay $36 million in fiscal year 2020 and $41.4 million in fiscal year 2021 if the program is fully funded, according to a report by the Legislative Services Agency. That’s an additional $47.4 million over two years.

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School voucher surprise

Indiana Republican legislators dropped a surprise Monday. They are proposing to increase state funding for some students who receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

They want to add a new category of voucher, bridging the gap between low-income families that qualify for “full vouchers” and middle-income families that get “half vouchers.”

Currently, students who qualify by family income for free or reduced-price school lunches qualify for a voucher worth 90 percent of state per-pupil funding received by their local public school district.

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Legislators OK with discrimination

Indiana House Republicans lined up four-square in favor of discrimination last week. They rejected a proposal to prohibit private schools that receive state funding from discriminating against students and staff because of disability, sexual orientation or gender identification.

The House voted 62-33 against the proposal, offered by Rep. Dan Forestal as an amendment to House Bill 1641, which deals with charter school issues. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it. Voting in favor were 32 Democrats and one brave Republican, Rep. Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville.

The proposal was sparked by controversy over Indianapolis Roncalli High School’s suspension of longtime counselor Shelly Fitzgerald after school officials discovered she was married to a woman. Roncalli has been receiving about $1.5 million per year in voucher funding. Indiana spent $154 million last year on tuition vouchers for private schools, nearly all of which are religious schools.

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Are Hoosier teachers underpaid?

Are Indiana teachers underpaid compared to their peers in others states? It’s a reasonable question to ask as state officials debate ways to find more money for teacher salaries.

A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests they are underpaid. After adjusting for cost of living, Indiana teacher salaries rank 32nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, it says.

The average “real” salary for a Hoosier teacher in 2017 was $56,347 after adjusting for the state’s low cost of living. Adjusted average salaries ranged from $75,000 in Alaska to $46,230 in Oklahoma.

Significantly, Indiana’s adjusted average salary was well below that for teachers in surrounding states. Gov. Eric Holcomb has suggested Indiana needs to raise educator pay because it’s at risk of losing teachers to nearby states with higher salaries.

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1920s decisions shaped racial landscape

You can look back nearly 100 years and watch as America took a serious wrong turn on race. Indiana, too.

Lynchings were widespread in the years right after World War I. Jim Crow laws solidified, and not just in the South. White mobs killed hundreds of African-Americans, including women and children, in East St. Louis, Illinois, Rosewood, Florida, Elaine, Arkansas, and Tulsa’s Greenwood district.

Indiana didn’t record incidents as horrific as those, but, as Emma Lou Thornbrough describes in the 2001 book “Indiana Blacks in the 20th Century,” the 1920s saw a rise in racial bias and racist policymaking that helps explain why Hoosier schools and communities are so divided by race today.

Book cover“The most conspicuous and lasting evidence of the rising tide of racial prejudice,” Thornbrough writes, “was the effort to segregate housing, by preventing blacks from moving into neighborhoods that white homeowners declared belonged exclusively to them, and to segregate all white and black pupils in separate schools.”

This was the era when the Ku Klux Klan wielded more power in Indiana than in any other state. It gained control of the Republican Party and elected candidates for governor, state legislature, city councils and school boards. It was estimated that 25 percent of native-born white men were members.

But the Indiana Klan of the 1920s was focused less on blacks than on immigrants, Catholics and booze, as historian Jim Madison has explained.The segregation of Indiana schools and neighborhoods was driven by white civic leaders, chambers of commerce and real estate organizations as well as by racist groups called the White Supremacy League and the White People’s Protective League.

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Study: Inclusion benefits special-needs students

A new study from researchers at Indiana University provides strong evidence that students with special needs do better academically when they are placed in general-education classrooms, not separated in self-contained special education classes.

The study tracks the test scores of a cohort of Indiana students with disabilities from third through eighth grades. It finds that students in “high inclusion” placements – in general-education classrooms at least 80 percent of the time every year – scored better than similar peers.

Lead authors of the study are Sandi Cole of the Center on Lifelong Learning at IU’s Institute on Disability and Community and Hardy Murphy of the center and the IU School of Education at IUPUI.

“We can now make a pretty definitive statement that placement matters,” Cole said. “If we know that placement matters, let’s talk about how we make it happen.”

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Bad bills may get better – or not

Two of the worst bills filed in this year’s Indiana legislative session are on the agenda Monday morning for a meeting of the House Education Committee. At least, they started out as two of the worst.

The authors of the bills have said they will offer amendments Monday to remove the most egregious provisions. But advocates for public schools and their students need to make sure they do that – and that the provisions don’t return somewhere later in the legislative process.

House Bill 1641, as introduced, would require public school districts to share the proceeds from property-tax referendums with local charter schools. It would also force public districts to sell unused building to private schools, most of which are religious schools, for half their value. Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education has a good explanation for why both are bad ideas.

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School lost students but not funding

State Rep. Vernon Smith made a good point Thursday when the Indiana House was discussing legislation to regulate virtual charter schools. The Gary Democrat suggested state funding for the schools should be based on how many students they enroll throughout the school year, not just in the fall.

Rep. Vernon Smith

Rep. Vernon Smith

Indiana schools receive state funding according to the number of students they enroll on a designated count day in September. If students leave after that day, the schools keep the money but no longer incur the cost of serving the students. And that happens a lot – especially at some of the virtual schools.

We know this because the Indiana Department of Education has schools report their enrollment on a second count day in February. The spring semester count doesn’t affect funding; it’s for information purposes only.

In the 2017-18 school year, one online charter school, Indiana Virtual School, reported enrollment of 3,381 students in the fall but only 1,836 students in the spring. That’s a loss of 46 percent of its students.

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