Legislators may push voucher expansion

Don’t be surprised if lawmakers try to expand Indiana’s already generous private school voucher program in 2021. They’re signaling their intention with the issues surveys they send to constituents.

At least eight House Republicans include this question in their surveys, which are posted on their internet sites: “Do you support increasing the income eligibility for Indiana’s CHOICE scholarships, giving more low- and middle-income families the option to send their children to the school that best meets their needs?”

Note that the question contains a falsehood. Increasing the income eligibility for vouchers, officially labeled Choice Scholarships, won’t change anything for low-income families. They already meet income qualifications for the program, which provides state funding for private school tuition.

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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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ISTA priorities go beyond state budget

Improved school funding is at the top of the Indiana State Teachers Association’s 2017 legislative agenda. But it’s not all about the money. Also high on the list are supporting students who experience childhood trauma or developmental delays and helping teachers get better at what they do.

The ISTA also wants to put less emphasis on standardized tests, hold schools harmless for low grades until testing glitches are sorted out, improve teacher salaries and check the growth of private school vouchers and charter schools.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith answers questions.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith answers questions.

“All of these proposals are part of putting kids first in Indiana, making kids our first priority,” said ISTA president Teresa Meredith, who unveiled the agenda Wednesday at the Statehouse while appealing to lawmakers to focus on the more than 90 percent of Indiana students who attend public schools.

A top ISTA priority, Meredith said, is helping schools implement “trauma-informed care,” which recognizes and responds to the impact that adverse childhood experiences – such as abuse or neglect, family violence, substance abuse, mental illness and divorce — can have on development. The ISTA wants the legislature to create a safe and supportive schools program and fund training grants for educators.

Meredith cited reports that 26 percent of children experience a traumatic event before age 4 and research that finds childhood trauma linked to poor school outcomes, later mental health and substance abuse issues and a shorter life span. Continue reading

Lift every voice – and say no to crackpot legislation

State Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville is usually one of the more sensible Republicans at the Indiana Statehouse. It’s surprising that she’s the author of one of the first truly awful education bills of the 2012 legislative session: a proposal to put government restrictions on the singing of the national anthem at school events.

Becker’s Senate Bill 122 would require the Indiana Department of Education to develop standards for what is “acceptable” in the performance of the anthem. State-funded schools, colleges and universities would have to enter contracts with anyone who sings the anthem at a public, school-sponsored event. Schools would be required to record the performances and maintain the recordings for two years. Singers who deviate from appropriate words and music could be fined $25.

Apparently many folks have strong feelings about the right and wrong ways to sing the English drinking song that became the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But regardless of what you think of a little melisma with your bombs bursting in air, it should go without saying that Indiana schools and the Department of Education have better things to worry about. Remember, this is the same state legislature that last year insisted on relieving schools from “burdensome” rules and regulations in locally negotiated teachers’ union contracts.

Bill-filing for the 2012 session, which starts this week and ends in March, has just begun, yet several questionable education measures have already been introduced.

SB 89 would allow school boards to require the teaching of “creation science.” See Karen Francisco’s Learning Curve blog at the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette for a good report on this measure.

SB 83 mandates the teaching of cursive writing as part of the school curriculum.

SB 84 would eliminate multi-class state basketball tournaments.

There will be serious education issues to debate in this session – more on that soon. But let’s hope lawmakers give these four bills the cold shoulder they deserve.

Meanwhile, a New Year’s gift for Sen. Becker: Colorado-based jazz singer Rene Marie’s lovely, daring and inspirational version of the anthem our nation should aspire to.