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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Surveys go heavy on school issues

Look for Indiana legislators to spend their 2022 session trying to mandate partisan school board elections and restrict political discussions in the classroom. They may also want to ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports and demand disclosure of teachers’ lesson plans.

That’s my conclusion from reviewing issues surveys posted online by House Republicans. While the surveys are ostensibly to get constituent input, they also let lawmakers field-test ideas for legislation.

Indiana Statehouse

About half of the 71 House Republicans have posted their surveys. Using identical, canned language, they ask about vaccine mandates, tax cuts and other topics, but K-12 education seems to dominate. For example, a large majority ask if constituents would support “greater election transparency” by requiring school board candidates to declare their political party affiliation.

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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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Lawmakers to push partisan school board elections

Republican legislators said their goal was to “take politics out of education” when they voted in 2017 to replace Indiana’s elected superintendent of public instruction with an appointed state education leader. Now those same folks are poised to put politics back into education at the local level.

Expect the Indiana General Assembly to seriously consider legislation to make local school board elections partisan in its 2022 session, which starts in January and ends in March.

Indiana Statehouse dome. (Indiana General Assembly photo).

“I’ve heard there are more than a handful of legislators that support or intend to file bills of this nature,” Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, told me. “I think there is certainly going to be a bill that moves.”

Reportedly some GOP lawmakers were already talking about this idea in the spring, during the final weeks of the 2021 legislative session. But it gained momentum over the summer and fall as school board meetings became hotbeds of conflict over race, COVID-19 precautions and other issues.

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‘Hold harmless’ shows flaws in school grades

The Indiana Senate and House have scrambled to approve “hold-harmless” legislation that, as Chalkbeat Indiana says, will render the state’s school letter grades essentially meaningless for two years.

Indiana Statehouse

Indiana Statehouse

A better approach would be to scrap the school grades altogether and get to work on a more fair and meaningful method for assessing school quality. But that might be too much to hope for.

The Senate and House voted unanimously for Senate Bill 2, which says the grades that schools receive for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years can be no worse than their grades in 2017-18. Gov. Eric Holcomb called for hold-harmless in his State of the State speech, so he’s sure to sign the bill into law.

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Lawmakers take first steps on virtual schools

Finally, the Indiana General Assembly is taking steps to regulate “virtual” or online charter schools. But it has a way to go to make the regulations as tough as they should be.

Gordon Hendry

Gordon Hendry

“Right now, I’m encouraged that the legislature is taking the issue seriously,” said Gordon Hendry, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education. “I think it’s still early – my hope is some additional items make it into final legislation, and I hope the governor encourages that.”

Hendry chaired a committee of the board that drafted recommendations for the legislature to adopt. Some of those recommendations are included in legislation; others aren’t, at least not yet.

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Group that DeVos led spending big on elections

The organization formerly led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is spending at least $325,000 this year to keep the Indiana General Assembly in Republican control.

The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, the American Federation for Children, doesn’t give directly to candidates or parties but funnels its largesse through state partners. In Indiana, that’s Hoosiers for Quality Education, which has led the push for private-school vouchers and charter-school expansion.

Indiana Statehouse

The federation’s political action fund gave Hoosiers for Quality Education $325,000 in three big contributions in 2018, according to campaign finance reports filed this month. That’s about half the money the Indiana-based group received this year.

In turn, Hoosiers for Quality Education has handed out $575,000 this year, nearly all of it to the campaigns of Republican candidates for the Indiana House and Senate. It’s sitting on a cash balance of $170,000 that can be parceled out between now and Election Day if needed.

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For Indiana schools, freedom from union restrictions, but not from regulation

The Indiana General Assembly gave Gov. Mitch Daniels almost everything he asked for in the way of education reforms – almost.

More charter schools, vouchers, merit pay for teachers, limits on collective bargaining, even a “Mitch Daniels early graduation scholarship” for students who complete high school early. The solid Republican majority in the House and Senate managed to bull all those measures through the legislative process.

But when Daniels gave his State of the State address back in January, he also called on lawmakers to get rid of rules that have been piled on schools – for example, that they teach about organ donation, self-examinations for breast and testicular cancer and the spread of disease by rats, flies and mosquitoes.

“We are asking this Assembly to repeal … mandates that, whatever their good intentions, ought to be left to local control. I am a supporter of organ donation, and cancer awareness, and preventing mosquito-borne disease, but if a local superintendent or school board thinks time spent on these mandated courses interferes with the teaching of math, or English, or science, it should be their right to eliminate them from a crowded school day.”

As far as we can tell, none of these sorts of mandates were repealed. Nor were requirements that schools display the American flag in every classroom, provide a daily moment of silence and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and maintain 15 specific “protected writings, documents, and records of American history or heritage.” In fact, the patriotic requirements were extended to private schools that receive state-funded tuition vouchers under House Bill 1003.

Legislators are a lot better at making up new rules and regulations than at getting rid of old ones.

The Indiana Department of Education’s legislative agenda called for providing schools with greater flexibility and freedom. You might think that would mean getting rid of unnecessary regulations. But it turns out to have meant freeing schools from restrictions imposed by collective bargaining agreements.

Part of Daniels’ successful agenda, SB 575, limits collective bargaining for teachers to salaries, insurance benefits, and paid-time-off policies.

Of course, those were essentially the only factors that were required to be included in bargaining under the old law. School boards could also choose to bargain over the length of the school day, student-teacher ratios and working conditions. Many did. But no one was holding a gun to their heads.

Performance pay for teachers is here: Some reflections

The Indiana General Assembly, to no one’s surprise, passed Senate Bill 1 Monday and sent it to the governor to sign into law. The legislation upends how teachers are compensated in Indiana, replacing a system based on experience and education with one based on measures of effectiveness.

The old system has been in place for decades. And while it served important purposes – reducing discrimination, providing job security, creating a career path in which a person could count on making a decent living in a relatively low-paying profession – it couldn’t hold up to the new political reality.

So now Indiana will have a system in which teachers undergo yearly evaluations, which must be “significantly informed” by student test scores and test-score improvement, and are placed in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, needs improvement and ineffective.

Give some credit to state lawmakers for amending the SB 1 to make clear that teachers won’t face salary cuts from the change; early versions of the bill weren’t clear about that. Also, the Department of Education seems to be doing the right thing by asking school corporations to try out new teacher assessment systems in 2011-12 before they’re implemented statewide in 2012-13.

Here are a few concerns:

– SB 1 says “objective measures of student achievement and growth” will “significantly inform” teacher evaluations, and ISTEP exams will be used to rate teachers whose effectiveness can be measured that way: i.e., classroom teachers in grades 3-6, middle-school English and math teachers, Continue reading

Gary, IPS are biggest losers in GOP school funding plan

Many school districts would face hardships under the budget and school funding formula unveiled last week by the Republican leaders of the Indiana House of Representatives – but none of them gets slammed harder than the Gary Community School Corp.

The GOP plan would cut funding for Gary schools by nearly $20 million over a two-year period. Add the $5 million that Gov. Mitch Daniels sliced from the district’s budget last year, and the city’s schools are looking at a 25-percent reduction.

We don’t talk much about race or class in 21st century America, but it’s hard not to notice that 97 percent of students in the Gary public schools are African-American and most come from low-income families. Look also at Indianapolis Public Schools, where two-thirds of students are black, Hispanic or multiracial and more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches: IPS funding would be cut by $41.3 million over two years, about 15 percent, under the proposal.

All 60 Republicans in the Indiana House are white. It’s a safe bet that none are poor.

Republicans would point out that, even with the cuts, per-pupil funding will remain higher in Gary and Indianapolis than the state average. They might suggest that generous state funding hasn’t produced stellar test scores and graduation rates in those districts, so it’s time for something else.

One reason the funding imbalance developed was that Democrats long controlled the House and protected urban (and some rural) schools from funding cuts, even when they lost enrollment. The logic was sound: A district that loses a few students can’t necessarily close schools and lay off teachers without sacrificing quality.

But growing suburban school districts complained the formula wasn’t fair. Some even sued. Now Republicans control both the House and Senate in Indiana, and they are tilting the school-funding formula to favor their own constituents.