Discipline bill should include charter schools

Legislation aimed at promoting positive school discipline and reducing the number of students who are suspended or expelled has been approved by the Indiana House and sent to the Senate. As amended in the House, the bill doesn’t mandate better policies, but it’s a step in the right direction.

It would be a bigger step, however, if lawmakers extended their reach to charter schools, including “no-excuses” charter schools that use strict discipline to enforce compliant student behavior.

House Bill 1421, in its current form, would:

  • Have the Indiana Department of Education develop a model school discipline policy and provide help to school corporations that want to implement better discipline policies and procedures.
  • Have the department survey school corporations about their use of positive discipline and report the findings to the legislature by Sept. 1, 2018.
  • Assign a legislative study committee the task of examining positive school discipline and restorative justice policies with an eye to whether they should be required in the future.

None of that is controversial, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 92-0.

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Legislation seeks to roll back ‘zero tolerance’

Indiana legislators could be on their way to doing something important for the state’s students. Bills have been filed in the House and Senate that would pull back from the harsh school discipline policies that have been in place since the “zero tolerance” philosophy swept the nation in the 1990s.

The measures, Senate Bill 443 and House Bill 1640, were introduced by Republicans Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee. And they have bipartisan support; Democrat Greg Porter is second author of the House bill.

“These are very good bills, with three or four noteworthy provisions,” said Russell Skiba, education professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. “It’s certainly encouraging that the leadership in both the House and Senate is behind this.”

The proposals result from recommendations developed last fall by the legislature’s interim study committee on education. The Children’s Law and Policy Initiative, the Indianapolis NAACP and other groups have been pushing for these sorts of changes.

Driving the bills is concern about overuse of suspension and expulsion, often for minor offenses. Research has found large disparities in how discipline is applied, with minority students punished more harshly than white students for the same offenses. Indiana has some of the worst disparities in the nation, according to federal data. Continue reading