Muncie schools exempted from state grading, accountability laws

Republicans in the Indiana legislature have been hard-core supporters of school accountability for about as long as I can remember, so it seems odd that they would toss it out the window as part of a deal that hands control of Muncie Community Schools to Ball State University.

But they did. The state law that calls for schools to receive A-to-F grades on the basis of student test scores and other measures? Muncie schools will be exempt. The law requiring state intervention and potential takeover for schools that consistently get low grades? Exempt from that too.

Those provisions of House Bill 1315 got almost no attention in public debate or the news media before the legislation was approved on a near party-line vote in a special session Monday. One wonders how many lawmakers knew they were in the bill before they arrived to get their marching orders.

In general, the legislation doubles down on the state’s year-old takeover of financially troubled Muncie and Gary Community Schools. In addition to inviting Ball State to take charge of Muncie schools, it weakens the elected Gary school board and strengthens the emergency manager who runs the district.

Ball State’s trustees will meet today to approve a resolution to take over Muncie Community Schools. The trustees and Ball State president will appoint a school board to replace the elected Muncie board.

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‘Distressed’ schools lost funding

No wonder Gary and Muncie community schools are distressed. Both Indiana school districts have had their budgets cut dramatically over the past decade. It’s not surprising they’ve struggled to pay the bills.

Muncie’s general fund, the part of the budget that pays educator salaries and most operating expenses, was reduced from $55.4 million to $42.5 million over the past six years, according to figures from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. That’s a 23 percent cut.

Gary’s decline has been even more stark. Its general fund budget dropped by more than half, from $104.4 million in 2011 to $50.1 million in 2017.

The state declared last year that the districts were financially distressed; oversight of the schools has been turned over to the state’s Distressed United Appeals Board, and they are being run by emergency managers. This year, legislation making its way through the Indiana House would put Ball State University in charge of Muncie Schools. In both cities, elected school boards are being marginalized.

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