Homeschool ‘bridge’ program works to keep funding

Indiana legislators have given a green light – for now — to a school that helps parents use state education dollars to buy Hulu subscriptions, museum memberships and American Girl dolls.

The school, Tech Trep Academy, operates through an arrangement with Cloverdale Community Schools. The state considers it a virtual or online school, but in fact it’s part of a growing trend of “bridge” programs that combine the freedom of homeschooling with public funding.

It opened in 2020, recruiting homeschool families with a promise of $1,700 per student to spend on educational products and programs. State officials warned that was an illegal enrollment incentive, so the school switched to offering points that could be traded for goods and services.

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‘People who hold $460,000 jobs don’t give them up’

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston’s duties as a state legislator meshed just fine with his responsibilities as an official of the College Board for nearly 10 years.

Then something changed. Huston’s $460,738 job with the testing organization fell victim to the right’s contrived war against so-called critical race theory.

Indiana Statehouse

The speaker stepped down from his position as senior vice president of the College Board two weeks ago after questions were raised about his support for House Bill 1134. As approved by the House, it would have restricted teaching about “divisive concepts” regarding race, sex and religion and required teachers to post lesson plans online so parents could opt out.

As speaker, Huston typically votes on bills only to break a tie or to signal that the measure is a priority for House Republicans. He voted for HB 1134, which passed, 60-37.

The legislation is part of a national campaign, playing out in state legislatures and elections, aimed at fighting “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs and curricula in school. And it’s in direct opposition to the culture of diversity and inclusion the College Board claims to favor.

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Senate amendment helps – but not enough

I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, and some credit is due today to Indiana Senate Republicans. They’ve offered an amendment to House Bill 1134 that would make a truly bad bill significantly less bad.

Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, unveiled the amendment Tuesday afternoon. It’s expected to be considered when the Senate Education and Workforce Development meets at 1:30 p.m. today.

As approved by the House, HB 1134 would require teachers to post learning materials and lesson plans online for parents and others to review, and it would restrict teaching about “divisive concepts” related to race, gender and other topics.

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Opposition to HB 1134 is strong and diverse

UPDATE: Senate Republicans are offering an amendment to HB 1134, which will be discussed in the committee meeting Wednesday. Some details are here.

House Bill 1134 was supposed to divide us. It was designed to pit parents against teachers, white people against people of color, city folks against Indiana’s rural population. It looks like it may be having the opposite effect.

We’re seeing strong and unified opposition to the bill, which would restrict what teachers can say about “divisive concepts” like race and force them to post lessons online so parents can opt out.

Indiana Statehouse

Opposition is coming from teachers’ organizations across the state, with the Indiana State Teachers Association calling on members to pack the Statehouse this week to stop HB 1134.

It’s coming from individual teachers, who warn that the bill could lead to a mass exodus of educators, who simply can’t do their job well under the restrictions it would impose.

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No partisan school board elections – for now

Here’s a rare bit of good news from the Indiana Statehouse: Lawmakers have dropped their effort to turn local school board elections into partisan affairs. At least for now.

Republican legislators filed seven bills – five in the House and two in the Senate – to either require school board candidates to declare a party affiliation or give them that option. Only one bill was given a hearing, however, and it was never called for a vote. That means the bills are dead for this session.

In their place, both the House and Senate have advanced legislation to require school boards – but not other local government boards – to allow public comment during their meetings.

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‘Follow the money’

A political action committee that favors more funding for charter schools gave $50,000 in December 2021 to the Indiana House Republican Campaign Committee and one of its favored candidates.

Weeks later, House Republicans introduced and began supporting legislation to require public school districts to share funding from property-tax referendums with charter schools.

Is there a connection? Hoosier Republicans have long been ideologically predisposed to school choice in all its forms. They argue state education tax dollars should “follow the child,” whether parents send the child to a public, charter or private school or a for-profit tutoring service.

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Lawsuit over virtual charter schools can proceed

Indiana can proceed with its effort to recover $154 million from two defunct virtual charter schools and their leaders and business partners, a judge has ruled.

Judge Michael A. Casati rejected requests from school officials that he dismiss state lawsuits aimed at recovering the funds. His decisions were filed Monday in Hamilton Superior Court.

Attorney General Todd Rokita, representing the state, filed suit in July 2021 against Indiana Virtual School, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy and several of their officers and business partners, alleging they misappropriated state funds. The lawsuit followed a State Board of Accounts investigation that found officials inflated enrollment figures and made improper payments to companies run by themselves and by associates.

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