Where did all the students go?

Chalkbeat Indiana reported that enrollment dropped by almost 15,000 students this fall in Indiana public schools. I wrote that the loss to school districts was over 17,000 students. It gets worse. Judging by recent state data, enrollment in local public schools fell by over 24,000 students.

Where did they go? Several thousand moved to online schools, either virtual charter schools or online programs operated by other school districts. Some families apparently opted out of enrolling their 5-year-olds in kindergarten. A majority of the missing students are probably home-schooling.

In terms of state funding, the loss of 24,000 students translates to a loss of nearly $150 million for public schools in the 2020-21 school year. It’s almost as much money as the schools lose to Indiana’s voucher program, which provides tuition funding for students who attend private schools.

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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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Indiana updates: Inequities in the system

Indy Star launches kindergarten series
The Indianapolis Star, which last school year followed the fortunes of students at Manual High School in Indianapolis, is taking on a reporting project at the other end of the education spectrum: observing kindergartners at IPS School #61, where students are predominantly black or Hispanic, and 90 percent of the student body lives in poverty. Reporter Robert King’s first article in the series highlighted the first obvious differences among the new students: those who could understand simple directions and those who couldn’t; those who had been raised with awareness of correct social behavior and those who hadn’t; even those who showed up on the first day with their families, and the one child who showed up alone, with teachers not even knowing his full name until three days had passed.

Dumpster diving teacher provides for her kids
How’s this for an effective way to underscore the inequities among children in different Indiana public schools? Katie Nave, a fifth-grade teacher at IPS School 63, picked up on school supplies discarded by teachers and students in the Carmel schools and hit the jackpot, reports The Indianapolis Star. She came back with enough pencils, paper and other basic supplies to outfit her whole class.
“This is my first year when I’ve been able to give every single one of my kids every supply they would need during the school year,” she told the Star.
Some Carmel Clay schools already help out their neighbors to the south with fundraisers and drives for school supplies and even clothes. After Assistant Superintendent Amy Dudley found out about Nave’s exploits, she suggested a formal supply drive be added to those cooperative efforts so that IPS kids in future won’t have to rely on a Dumpster-diving teacher for their back-to-school needs.

IBJ (mostly) hearts Bennett
The Indianapolis Business Journal gave Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett a largely ringing endorsement for his recent State of Education address, applauding his push for “hard-nosed reforms.” (Read a transcript of the speech here.) The IBJ editorial noted Bennett’s emphasis on teacher and administrator accountability and praised his proposal to grade schools on a scale of A though F. Still, the journal expressed some reservation about the use of test scores as the only measure of school effectiveness. “Students are not widgets,” it said. And it suggested Bennett take up two causes that it said can’t be achieved without money: instituting universal full-day kindergarten and decreasing class size around the state. But overall, the IBJ said Bennett is on the right track, with the most aggressive education agenda since former superintendent H. Dean Evans’s A-Plus reforms passed in 1987.