Indy clergy call out attorney general

Thanksgiving is a few days past, but I’m feeling especially thankful today for the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis. They’ve had the courage to call out Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita for his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and so-called critical race theory.

The group’s president, the Rev. David Greene Sr., told Indiana Public Media’s Jeanie Lindsay that Rokita’s comments are racist and based on misinformation, and they undermine efforts to make students of color feel safe, welcome and supported.

“They are divisive, while he’s trying to claim that he’s trying to keep that from happening – his remarks are offensive to those of us who are people of color,” Greene said. “We know a dog whistle, we know language that is not really meant for Black and Brown people.”

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Legislators to clarify ‘immunization passport’ ban applies to schools

Indiana legislators are planning to make clear that a ban on COVID-19 “immunization passports” applies to public schools, charter schools and state colleges and universities.

The language is part of draft legislation scheduled for discussion this morning by the House and Senate Rules and Legislative Procedures committees. Lawmakers plan to pass the bill in a one-day session Nov. 29 to bring Indiana’s public health emergency to an end.

The legislature hurriedly adopted a ban on immunization passports last spring, but it wasn’t clear if even they knew what it meant or whom it applied to. The bill said the ban covered any “state or local unit” of government. That could have arguably meant public school corporations, but it almost certainly didn’t mean state universities, based on definitions in state law. Charter schools? Who knows?

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IPS referendum and ‘innovation’ schools

The Indianapolis Public Schools board is expected to vote tonight to share local property-tax revenue with “innovation network schools,” charter schools that operate in partnership with the district. Under the proposal, the schools would get $500 per pupil, per year, from an IPS referendum approved in 2018.

There are 25 IPS innovation charter schools, serving about 10,000 students, so the plan would cost the district around $5 million a year. The referendum raised property taxes and brings in about $30 million a year to help fund IPS operating costs, including teacher salaries, until 2026.

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Teachers push to bargain for working conditions

Indiana teachers are pushing to regain the right to bargain collectively for working conditions, which the state legislature took away a decade ago. At a news conference Monday, Indiana State Teachers Association officials called on lawmakers to support bargaining on class size limits, prep time and safety conditions.

ISTA President Keith Gambill said the COVID-19 pandemic, now impacting a third school year, has made it urgent for the state to address teachers’ working conditions. “Our educators, already overburdened, are facing unsustainable levels of stress and stress-related illness,” he said.

Keith Gambill (ISTA photo)

Gambill said poor working conditions and a lack of respect have caused many educators to retire early or leave the field, contributing to statewide shortages. An Indiana State University survey found that 96% of Indiana schools are experiencing teacher shortages.

Prodded by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, the legislature voted in 2011 to limit teacher collective bargaining to pay and benefits, such as health insurance. The measure was part of a package of K-12 education laws that also included the creation of a private school voucher program and an expansion of charter schools.

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Virginia means more CRT debate

Last week’s Virginia gubernatorial election pretty much guarantees that some Indiana Republicans will spend the 2022 legislative session posturing on so-called critical race theory and related issues.

They probably would have anyway. Hoosier legislators reportedly have been drafting bills to regulate what schools teach about race and promote transparency about K-12 curriculum, an echo of the “parents’ bill of rights” that state Attorney General Todd Rokita released in June.

Then came Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race after vowing to ban critical race theory and tapping into frustrations over COVID-related school closings and other topics. Republicans are pointing to that election, in a state that Joe Biden won by 10 points, to argue the party should lean into the culture war to win back the suburbs and win elections.

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