Pre-K expansion still faces hurdles

An Indiana University research center released a detailed report last week recommending Indiana expand its pre-kindergarten pilot program and explaining how 10 others states have done just that. But on the same day, a state Senate committee slashed funding for pre-K expansion to almost nothing.

And so it goes here in the 201st year of Indiana statehood. We are determined to pinch pennies as tightly as we can, even if it means depriving our youngest citizens of the education they deserve.

The report, from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU, was produced for the State Board of Education. It describes Indiana’s nascent pre-K program – which serves about 1,600 4-year-olds in five of the state’s 92 counties – and contrasts it with programs in other states that started small and grew.

The programs vary in scope, student eligibility and academic requirements. Not surprisingly, states that spend the most money serve the most students. Georgia, for example, provides pre-K in 100 percent of its school districts. Massachusetts, which got a later start, serves 25 percent of districts. Other states examined are Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Indiana’s pilot pre-K program, On My Way Pre-K, is available only in Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. It was created in 2014 and spends $10 million per year.

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Senator agrees: Indiana education board overreached with reading retention rule

Sen. Luke Kenley has affirmed that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and the Indiana State Board of Education went beyond the bounds of state law when they adopted a rule that requires third-graders to pass a reading test or face grade-level retention.

“I would just put the Department of Education and the State Board on notice that they’re clearly not in line with the words in the statute so they’re opening themselves up perhaps to a lawsuit or a complaint by somebody on those grounds,” the Noblesville Republican tells NPR’s StateImpact Indiana.

Kenley’s words echo what Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, told School Matters last month: that Bennett and the state board “essentially usurped” what lawmakers put in the 2010 legislation that called for ensuring children develop strong reading skills.

Both Kenley and Porter were members of the House-Senate conference committee that agreed to a compromise version of the bill, so if anyone knows what it was supposed to mean, they should. Kenley’s words could arguably carry even more weight because, like Bennett, he is a Republican, a member of the party that controls both the House and Senate.

And not just any Republican. He chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee as well as serving on the Education and Career Development Committee. By virtue of the latter appointment, he’s also part of the Select Commission on Education that the legislature created to review policies adopted by the state board and the Indiana Department of Education. Continue reading

Bennett to testify on education measures before Senate committee

Here’s a chance to catch Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett talking about his education agenda – live on the Internet.

Bennett is scheduled to testify at 4 p.m. Tuesday (March 22) before the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee. Plans call for the committee hearing to be webcast at www.in.gov/legislative. (Click on the “Watch Indiana General Assembly Live” link at the upper-right corner).

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, has convened a series of hearings on the two-year state budget and related legislation. The notice for Tuesday says Bennett will speak about the school funding formula, remediation and testing, turnaround schools, charter schools, vouchers and collective bargaining – in other words, most of the education platform advocated by Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels.

That’s a lot of ground to cover in the one hour that Bennett is scheduled to be on the stand. Let’s hope Kenley allows plenty of questions from committee members.

The procedure here is sort of unusual. Normally the Indiana House approves a budget bill, and then it goes to the Senate, which passes a different version. And then it goes to a House-Senate conference committee, which works out a compromise.

But House Democrats walked out before the GOP-drafted House budget bill came down for a vote. The state constitution says that bills “raising revenue” must originate in the House. So Senate leaders apparently plan to take a House-approved bill and amend it to include the state budget.

Some lawmakers have suggested the Daniels-Bennett education proposals could end up in the budget bill – if, that is, the governor and superintendent can persuade Kenley that they should pass.