Nazi or not, bill is still bad

Update: The House approved HB 1134 Jan. 26 by a vote of 60-37, sending it to the Senate. The previous day, the House amended the bill to remove references to higher education. Restrictions on K-12 schools and teachers remain.

The supposed denazification of Indiana House Bill 1134 didn’t make it better. It’s still an ill-advised bill that will tie the hands of teachers and prevent students from learning American history in all its complexity.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 167, ran into trouble when its lead author, Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, suggested teachers should be neutral when they teach about Nazi Germany. Baldwin tried to walk back the comment, but too late to avoid being mocked on late-night TV by Stephen Colbert.

That was apparently too much for Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, who put the kibosh on the bill. But HB 1134 is still alive. Its author, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, has said he will bring it to the House floor for second reading and amendments, possibly today.

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Bill could extend resident tuition to immigrant students

Indiana legislators could be on track to doing something important: changing the law to let noncitizen students pay resident tuition at Indiana colleges and universities.

Senate Bill 138, being considered by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, would extend in-state tuition to students who complete four years of high school in Indiana and earn a diploma or a high school equivalence certificate. Currently, noncitizens have to pay out-of-state tuition.

Indiana Statehouse dome

Committee testimony on this bill last Thursday was powerful. Young immigrants told of studying diligently in school and working for a better future, only to learn they couldn’t receive federal or state student aid and would have to pay pricey nonresident tuition to attend college in Indiana.

“We won’t stop here. We will continue to advocate and raise our voices,” said Wendy Catalan Ruano, an Indianapolis resident and an advocate with the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance.

Supporters said the bipartisan bill is timely as Indiana businesses struggle to find qualified workers and college-educated Hoosiers often take their skills and credentials to other states.

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Enrollment up, but only a little

Enrollment in Indiana public and charter schools bounced back last fall as most districts returned to full-time, in-person learning. But not all the way back.

According to data released this week by the Indiana Department of Education, 1.03 million students were enrolled in public and charter schools at the start of the current school year. That’s up slightly from the previous year but about 14,000 short of number in fall 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrollment had declined in the fall of 2020 as the pandemic took hold and many schools switched partly or fully to online or hybrid instruction. Much of the decrease was in the early grades, especially kindergarten, where enrollment shrank by over 7%.

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Bill would share referendum funds with charter schools

Legislation to force school districts to share money from property-tax referendums with charter schools is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The measure, House Bill 1072, says funding from future operating and school-safety referendums must be shared with charter schools attended by students who live in the school district. Its author is Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the influential chair of the House Education Committee.

An analysis by the state’s Legislative Services Agency suggests the bill could shift about $25 million a year from school districts to charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. The impact would be most pronounced in cities with many charter schools, like Indianapolis and Gary. It would not apply to online charter schools or “adult high schools” like Goodwill Industries’ Excel Centers.

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History ‘lives in us’ despite lawmakers’ efforts

The novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Someone should remind Indiana legislators, who are trying to nail down what students can learn about history.

They seem to think history and the past are a set of indisputable facts, frozen in amber. Yes, historical facts exist, but our understanding of them and our relationship with them is always changing.

“No historian will stray from the facts,” Indiana University historian Eric Sandweiss told me. “And yet every history student and scholar know they are building on the facts. They are finding new facts that haven’t been found before, and they are seeing them and connecting them in new ways.”

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Lawmakers to consider restrictions on teaching about race

Legislation aimed at preventing students – including high school and college students – from being exposed to certain ideas about race and American history will be discussed this week at the Statehouse.

Bills have been filed in both the House and Senate to set parameters for teaching and learning about race, sex, religion and other potentially divisive topics. One of them, Senate Bill 167, is set for a hearing Wednesday morning before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Indiana Statehouse

The first thing to know about these bills is that they aren’t original or unique to Indiana. They are part of a coordinated national campaign against so-called critical race theory, with similar versions having been filed or passed in dozens of states. The language is copied from an executive order by former President Donald Trump and from “model bills” promulgated by right-wing advocacy groups.

The second thing to know is that they are, at best, a solution in search of a problem. The folks pushing them seem to think Hoosier teachers are woke activists pushing a leftist agenda centered on identity politics. They aren’t. Teachers are like everyone else: some are liberal, some are conservative – some are very conservative – and many don’t care about politics.

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Virtual charter school case in court this week

A Hamilton County court hearing this week may determine whether Indiana taxpayers have a chance to recover $154 million from two virtual charter schools and their leaders and business partners.

The hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before Hamilton Superior Court Judge Michael Casati, concerns motions to dismiss a lawsuit to recover charter school funds that were allegedly obtained by fraud or improperly spent.

Attorney General Todd Rokita filed the suit in July 2021 on behalf of the state. Defendants include the schools — Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy — and several of their officers and employees. Also named are businesses that were affiliated with the schools.

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Graduation rates declined

It’s not surprising that Indiana high school graduation rates declined in 2021. It’s probably a little surprising that they didn’t decline more than they did.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for public and charter schools was 86.69%. That’s down one percentage point from the 2020 rate.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruption to schooling in 2020-21. Some high school seniors no doubt adapted well to online or hybrid classes, but others didn’t. We heard stories of students who gave up on school, sometimes to work or care for siblings. An analysis by the state DOE found 2020-21 disruptions had an academic impact ranging from moderate to significant for Hoosier students. You’d expect the graduation rate to drop.

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1619 belongs in classrooms

We remember the canonical years from our American history classes: 1492. 1776. 1861-65. It’s past time to add 1619 to the list. I just read the 1619 Project book, and I’m convinced.

It was in August 1619 that Jamestown, Virginia, colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. “They were among the more than 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in the book’s introductory essay.

Image of The 1619 Project book cover.

Arguably no event had a more pivotal and long-lasting impact on the United States. As the 1619 Project makes clear, chattel slavery and the accompanying doctrine of white supremacy shaped American history and American attitudes, and they continue to do so today.

“The story of Black Americans cannot be disentangled from the story of America, and our attempts to do so have forced us to tell ourselves a tale full of absences, evasions and lies,” writes Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and lead author.

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Indiana falls short on school funding effort

Indiana just doesn’t try hard enough. That’s a key message from an annual report on school funding from the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

When it comes to “fiscal effort,” one of the report’s measures of K-12 funding, Indiana lags behind most other states. We spend just 3.06% of our gross state product on K-12 education, compared to a national average of 3.45%. Indiana ranks 36th among the states for fiscal effort.

It wasn’t always that way. In 2007, Indiana spent a respectable 3.73% of its economy on K-12 schools, the report says. Then came the Great Recession. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels, the state slashed funding for schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett declared this was a “new normal,” and schools should just get used to it. Indiana fell far behind its peers for teacher pay.

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