Deadline nears on charter schools bill

Indiana advocates for traditional public schools are doing what they can in the little time that’s left to block legislation that would let charter schools share in the revenue produced by local property-tax referendums.

They had no chance to weigh in on the measure before Monday, when it was approved by the Senate as an amendment to House Bill 1065, dealing with various tax matters. That’s because it didn’t appear until Monday morning. Its author bypassed the normal legislative process, which includes committee hearings in both the House and Senate and a chance for the public to speak.

Continue reading

Charter school legislation bypasses democratic process

Legislation to let school districts share the proceeds of property-tax referendums with charter schools is a short step from becoming law. Maybe that’s a reasonable idea and maybe it isn’t. But the way it arrived – slipped into a catch-all bill with no chance for scrutiny – should upset everyone.

Indiana Statehouse

Indiana Statehouse

There were apparently rumors around the Statehouse that charter school advocates might want a share of school referendum dollars. But no legislation to that effect was introduced, and no lawmakers suggested the idea during meetings of the House and Senate education committees.

On Monday, though, the referendum-charter measure was filed as an amendment to House Bill 1065, dealing with “various tax matters.” This was well after the bill had been approved by the House and by a Senate committee, when advocates for and against could review the language and have their say.

Continue reading

‘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.

Continue reading

Referendums help school districts, but not all of them

Voters in 10 Indiana school districts will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to raise their own property taxes to help fund local public schools. It’s another sign that Indiana has become a referendum state, with districts turning to local taxpayers to do the job that legislators haven’t done.

'Vote Here' sign near polling place.But only some of them: 60% of Indiana school districts have never attempted a referendum.

That’s approximately 180 districts that haven’t turned to the voters for funding in the 10 years that Indiana has had school funding referendums. Maybe they haven’t needed the money; or maybe superintendents and school boards didn’t think the local voters were ready.

Continue reading

Indiana ‘at-risk’ funding has declined

Indiana needs to spend more money on K-12 education. And it should target more of its spending to school districts that serve a large share of students from poor families.

Statehouse domeThose were key take-aways from a study presented Tuesday to a legislative committee examining Indiana’s complexity index, which channels extra money to schools to compensate for their enrollment of students who may require additional resources.

Robert Toutkoushian, a professor at the University of Georgia, produced the study, which found that Indiana’s per-pupil complexity index funding has declined by half in the past 10 years. As a share of overall state school funding, complexity funding fell from almost 20% to less than 10%.

Continue reading

McCormick: It’s time to change school grading system

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is tapping into the alarm over results of Indiana’s new ILEARN standardized assessment to call for changes in how the state evaluates schools.

She said the test scores “once again show us the importance of developing a modernized, state-legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate and transparent.”

Flores, McCormick and Paino

Jennifer McCormick, center, with Department of Education assessment director Charity Flores and accountability director Maggie Paino.

State officials will release 2019 ILEARN results Wednesday at a meeting of the State Board of Education. It’s expected that the percentage of students who scored at the proficient level on the assessment is considerably lower than the number who passed the former ISTEP exam in 2018.

In a statement and at a Statehouse news conference, McCormick said she will call on the legislature to: 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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Crunch time for school funding, teacher pay

This chart from Forbes Statistica has been all over social media in Indiana in recent weeks, as well it should be. I wonder if Indiana legislators have seen it – and if they have, if they’re paying attention.

It shows that Indiana ranks dead last when it comes to increases in teacher salaries over the past 15 years. Pay for Hoosier teachers has increased by less than $7,000, not adjusted for inflation. That’s less than half the increase seen in neighboring states Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

The legislature is hitting the home stretch on its 2019 session. By far the most important business left to resolve is approving a two-year state budget, including funding for schools. So far, lawmakers have proposed K-12 funding that barely keeps up with inflation. That needs to change.

Continue reading