“We have school to support American democracy.” – Suellen Reed
The annual Indiana Coalition for Public Education meeting was held on Saturday, August 26, 2017, in Indianapolis. The panel discussion was the main focus of the meeting with a small update on the past and upcoming legislative sessions ending the meeting.
The panel included the current and two former state superintendents: Jennifer McCormick, Suellen Reed, and Glenda Ritz. Marilyn Shank, ICPE board member, was moderator.
Shank presented six questions to the panelists:
Takeaways from the Discussion
Overall there was strong agreement among the three superintendents on all of these topics.
The Potential Loss of Federal Funding
McCormick was very concerned about Indiana schools losing federal title funding and Medicaid. She stated that Title II (Funding to increase the number of high-quality, effective teachers and principals) and Title III (Funding for English-language acquisition programs) were at greatest risk. Both total over $40 million. In addition, 140 school districts in Indiana—38 percent of all districts—receive Medicaid. Medicaid funds for support services from occupational therapists to nurses.
Ritz and Reed agreed with McCormick on the potential loss of federal funding. money. Money needs to be school based to help schools be more programmatic in their efforts.
School Programs and Services
Reed emphasized that the community must invest in our children. She asked us to consider all of the services that schools provide. We can't say to schools “Do it all”. There need to be community connections to get the variety of services the children need. Then the schools can use their money for education.
McCormick agreed but pointed out that many of the rural communities do not have the needed services available. She is working to reach out to those communities.
The Importance of Quality and Accountability in School Choice
McCormick was quick to admit that vouchers and charters are not going to go away. However, she then stated “if you take public dollars you should be under the same scrutiny as others that take public dollars.” It is a non-partisan idea that most Hoosiers could stand behind. She went on to say that Indiana has been a free for all with little monitoring of quality. She noted that the baseline of choice should be choice among quality alternatives. McCormick then drew on an analogy to the department of health’s role with restaurant safety and quality and how the state has the same responsibility with all schools—private, charter, and public. Quality and accountability should be expected from all schools that receive funding from the state.
McCormick also noted that many charter schools receive loans and when a school closes that loan is forgiven. She argued that there needs to be some responsibility for repayment of the loans and that the charter authorizer should bear some of that responsibility. Finally, she argued that if a school is taking public money that school should face the same accountability requirements as public schools. “We need to know where their money is going.”
Pre-K Funding and Mandatory Kindergarten
In a side note to the benefits of Pre-K in regards to closing achievement gaps, McCormick stated that she wants state legislators make Kindergarten mandatory. Currently the compulsory education statute in Indiana requires children to be in school from age 7 to 16. Mandatory kindergarten would reduce that to age 6.
Follow the Child Funding Does Not Work
Ritz strongly stressed the importance of the whole child and wraparound care and all the bits and pieces that go into providing an education for a child. She stated a couple of times during the discussion that “follow the child” funding does not work. “There are over one million students in Indiana and all have needs,” said Ritz. “It all boils down to money. The less you get, the less you can provide your students. And all schools are fighting for the same money to serve the same kids,” said Ritz. And yet, there isn’t enough money, which will lead to programmatic cuts. Programmatic cuts have and will continue occur primarily in rural and urban schools.
Are Muncie and Gary Outliers?
Muncie and Gary school corporations are being taken over by the State because of their financial problems. Both Reed and Ritz felt that Muncie and Gary are just the beginning. The financial problems will increase and more schools will be taken over.
Ritz explained the problem as follows. Districts are losing money, but if they cut programs then the schools will be less attractive to parents and enrollment will continue to fall. If they consolidate and close a school, a charter can come in and take over the building while not having to provide all the programs a public school provides. So, while districts might know they are in financial trouble, many don't see any way out. Reed agreed with Ritz, noting that even when she was superintendent, there were known financial problems in both districts.
In contrast, McCormick was adamant that Muncie and Gary were outlier school districts. She said that the schools had been in financial trouble for a long time but no one reached out to offer them guidance and support. One of her initiatives is to be proactive in working with districts. She wants to look at districts that are skirting the financial problems, see what lessons can be taken away, and then share those and provide others support as she sees a corporation getting into financial problems.
All three contributed a collective summation that the ISTEP is necessary for federal funding but it doesn’t have an impact on the child. ISTEP is a summative test while school-run tests measure growth. As of this school year, the districts and state are under a new federal accountability system that is unfortunately directly tied to assessment. The ISTEP was not created to rank school and grade teacher performance, however it has been used to do that. The ISTEP is too long and they hope that the ILEARN will be shorter.
McCormick noted that the new education act, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows for considerable flexibility in testing strategy—allowing districts to develop their own testing approach as long as it meets as long as it meets reliability and predictability standards. However, she noted that there has been little appetite for it at the state level.
McCormick also noted that much of the talk about testing strategy and content ignores the important links between what and how we test and the design and content of other parts of the education system.
Finally Reed pointed out that tests should only be used for the purposes they were designed for. We need different tests and testing strategies to evaluate students, schools, and teachers. Ritz returned to the freedom ESSA gives states in designing tests but, in agreeing with McCormick, she notes the state has been unwilling to provide that freedom.
All three stressed how important it is to be engaged in your local schools. It is important to be an informed voter, even run for school board, and to volunteer at your local schools. Only then through volunteering will you see the good things that are happening in your local schools.
Joel Hand provided the legislative update, which was incredibly brief due to the time remaining in the meeting. 2018 is a short session as there is no state budget to pass. Things to keep an eye on include voucher expansion efforts such educational savings accounts. The summer study committees are beginning to meet. That will give a view into what bills might appear during the upcoming session.
Hand closed the meeting with the following statement:
“ICPE is funded by individual members.
Without you, we don’t exist.
We are the reflection of you.
Please join ICPE and help us support public schools ”
We, ICPE-Monroe County, couldn't agree more! Please join us and maintain your membership.
Join us donorbox.org/join-icpe-monroe-countyhere.
Photos taken by Tom Duffy.