‘Public hearings’ without the public

Indiana law requires charter school authorizers to conduct a public hearing before they give permission for a new school to open. Did the Indiana Charter School Board follow the law when it authorized the Excel Center that will open this fall in Bloomington?

James Betley, executive director of the Charter School Board, said there were two “community meetings” in 2018 in Bloomington, attended by representatives of business and civic groups, including Judy DeMuth, the superintendent of the Monroe County Community School Corp.

He said those meetings were “open to the public,” but I can’t find any evidence that the public was told about them. There was nothing about them in the local newspaper, either before or after the fact. If the “public” wasn’t informed, in what sense were they public hearings?

Excel Centers are adult charter high schools operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, a program of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana. The schools are designed for adults who dropped out of school and want to go back and earn enough credits for a high school diploma. At least 15 Excel Centers have opened since 2010 in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Kokomo, Richmond and other cities. Continue reading

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Candidates should name pick for education leader

Candidates for Indiana governor in 2020 should put their education cards on the table when they start campaigning. That means they should announce whom they will appoint as secretary of education.

At the latest, they should do this by the time of the Republican and Democratic state conventions in June 2020. That’s when candidates for the chief state education officer would have been nominated in the past. Better yet, they should announce their choice during the campaign for the May 2020 primaries.

For most of Indiana’s history, the state superintendent of public instruction has been chosen by the voters. But this year, legislators voted to make the position one that’s appointed by the governor. They also changed its name to secretary of education.

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Time to ‘retire segregation’

Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, schools in the United States are intensely segregated and are growing more so, according to a new analysis by scholars at UCLA and Penn State.

Supreme Court Building

But the demographics of schools have changed since the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal,” regardless of resources.

In 1954, the U.S. had a large white majority and a small black minority, and the groups were taught separately in 17 Southern states. Today, whites are fewer than half the students in public schools, there are more Latino than African American students, and schools are more segregated in the North.

In another change, suburbs of the largest metro areas have become more racially diverse as black and Latino families find work and homes outside the cities.

“With a truly multiracial student enrollment, it is essential that we revisit Brown to reconceptualize what it means to desegregate our schools so that students from all racial backgrounds can learn together,” the authors write.

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School referendums may be reaching limit

I’ve written a lot about winners and losers in Indiana school funding, usually focusing on budget decisions made by the state legislature. But there’s another important divide when it comes to funding schools: between districts that pass local property-tax referendums and those that don’t.

And judging by this month’s elections, the number of referendum winners may be nearing its limit. Only six of the 10 school referendums that were on the May 7 ballot were approved. That’s a far lower rate than the 88% that passed between 2016 and 2018, according to data from Purdue University.

Under Indiana’s system of funding schools, money to pay teachers, staff and administrators and to fund most day-to-day operations comes from the state, appropriated by the legislature in the two-year state budget. Money for buildings and transportation comes from local property taxes.

But if schools need more operating money than the state provides, they can turn to local voters in a referendum. Continue reading

Indiana near bottom in teacher pay, school funding

The National Education Associated released its annual report on teacher salaries this week, and, once again, Indiana doesn’t look very good.

The average salary for an Indiana public school teacher in 2018-19 is $50,937, according to the report, compared with a national average of $61,730. In other findings:

  • Indiana ranked 36th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for average teacher salary.
  • Adjusting for inflation, Indiana’s average teacher salary has declined by 12.7% in the past decade, the fourth-worst drop in the country after Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin.
  • Indiana was fifth from the bottom in reported public school expenditures per student at $8,496. That compares to a national average of $12,602.
  • Per-pupil spending declined by 2.6% in Indiana from the previous year, the worst drop in the country.

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Lawmakers raise kindergarten age issue

A little-noticed measure approved by the Indiana Legislature could provide flexibility for parents who want their children to start kindergarten a little early.

Contrary to some interpretations, it did not change the kindergarten age requirement. State law still says that children may start kindergarten if they turn 5 by Aug. 1. That’s the earliest cutoff date of any state, tied with Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska and North Dakota.

But the law lets schools waive the age requirement and enroll children who miss the cutoff date, if parents request it. It’s up to local school districts to set policies on when to grant waivers.

During the current school year, kindergartners who didn’t turn 5 by Aug. 1, 2018, were not counted in their school’s enrollment for state funding purposes. That created an incentive for school districts to just say no to waiver requests, and reportedly many did.

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Some schools miss out on funding increase

Indiana legislators have been boasting this week about the “historic” increase in school funding they’ve included in the state budget. But Brown County School District Superintendent Laura Hammack has been thinking about how to cut spending by about $200,000 a year.

State base funding for Brown County schools will be reduced by that much under the two-year budget and school funding formula that lawmakers approved Wednesday.

Laura Hammack

“We have to make sure our revenues match our expenditures,” Hammack said. “To do that we have to reduce the budget.”

The state budget increases K-12 funding by 2.5 % each of the next two years. That’s better than lawmakers have done in recent budget sessions. As Hammack said, it could have been worse. But it barely matches the U.S. inflation rate of 2.4% predicted by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. And an outsized share goes to growing charter and voucher schools.

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