2019 was a year of leadership transition for us. Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer stepped down as chair and Judy Maki stepped down as treasurer. In January, we voted in new officers: myself as chair, Keri Miksza as vice chair, Charlie Savage as secretary, and Pam Bessler as treasurer. In these new roles, we are buoyed by the support of our hardworking board. How fortunate we are to have this energetic team with deep and diverse experience in public education.
In June, Cathy became president of our state-level ICPE. We know the skill and vision she brings to advocacy and organization-building and are excited for the future.
How We Spent the Annual Membership Fees
Membership fees and general donations provide essential support for our efforts. Here is how we spent your contributions last year. Keep in mind that $25 of every combined state/local membership goes to the state-level ICPE to support them and our lobbyist, Joel Hand. Joel attends education committee meetings at the Statehouse, gives testimony representing ICPE’s positions, and learns what bills may be headed our way.
In addition, a large amount was spent on reimbursing the state for their costs in our lawsuit. Although we did not prevail, we are proud that we did challenge the law. We are deeply grateful to Alex Tanford, Bill Groth, and Janet Stavropoulos, the legal team who donated their expertise and time to our cause. Read more about the lawsuit.
Here’s a Quick Review of What We Accomplished Last Year
We Followed Legislation and Stayed Focused on the State Budget
The 2019 legislative session was a budget year—a year where the biennium budget for the next two years is set—and we called for substantial increases in public school funding. Despite our efforts, the budget bill gave increases of 10.3% to charters, 5.25% to virtual charters, 9.3% to vouchers, and just 2% to public schools (and 89 districts were projected to actually lose money).
Representative Behning wanted to require public school districts to share referendum dollars with charters (HB1641), but we participated in a strenuous, and for the time successful, resistance to that.
We Collaborated with Other Institutions and Organizations
In February, with MCCSC and the IU School of Education, we co-sponsored an evening with State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. In April, with the Community Committee on Educational Equity, we co-sponsored a screening of “America to Me”—a documentary about race in a big, diverse public high school in Chicago—followed by a compelling panel moderated by our board member Byron Turner. And we worked with Hoosier Action to urge voters to contact legislators about the budget to demand a 3% increase each year for public schools.
We Honed Our Message and Reached Out
In the winter and spring, our presentation committee met regularly to distill and organize our message, with the goal of producing a set of slides that we could use to present to groups in their own spaces. Cathy presented to the Rotary Club in the spring, and this past fall we visited many PTOs and several classes at IU. If you belong to a group that cares about children, education, and the common good, we would absolutely love to share the information that we have. Please let us know if your group would be interested.
In the summer, we showed the film Rise Above the Mark at the Buskirk-Chumley, followed by a panel that included producer Dr. Rocky Killion, Brown County Schools superintendent Laura Hammack, retired teacher Kathy Fox, and Indianapolis activist Charity Scott.
Our friendly volunteers at the Children’s Expo (one day) and at the Farmers’ Market (all season) were always eager to have conversations about public schools. Many thanks to those who took time out of busy schedules to staff our table.
Keri Miksza designed Vote for Public Education yard signs and drove across the state to deliver them in advance of the 2019 local elections. Be sure to get yours for the 2020 elections (May 5 and November 3) before we sell out. You can order one. Proceeds will go to pro-public education candidates in 2020.
Excitingly, our longtime (and founding) members Joan and Phil Harris are working on a documentary and have interviewed a number of state and local ICPE members for that project.
We Examined the Data
On our blog, we looked at the voucher dollars going to religious schools in Indiana (99.4%, it turns out). We graphed the connection between the free lunch rates of schools and their ILEARN scores…a consistent and strong connection that holds across public, charter, and private schools. And our newest blog post examines the startling rise in free and reduced lunch rates in south central Indiana school districts.
On November 19, 2019, 15,000+ educators and public education supporters rallied at the Indiana statehouse. More than half the school districts in Indiana closed for the action day. Among the demands was adequate funding for schools. So far, legislators are resisting demands to open up the budget. Will there be consequences in 2020?
2020 is a big election year. It is also a short legislative session (it’s a non-budget year). State-level ICPE has put out its legislative positions. Will any of them be addressed? We’ll be following the short session and issuing calls to action (follow us on Facebook to see alerts). Our state group grades legislators in election years, so we will be publicizing those grades at the end of August, following the annual state-level meeting where they are officially released. We’ll also host a school board candidate forum in the fall for the two public school districts in Monroe County.
WE NEED YOU
If you have ideas or passions that you’d like to focus on, please reach out. If you can spare some money, please send it our way! Whatever you can contribute—whether it's time, expertise, funds, or spreading the word to friends—we really need your help. You can renew or join, or just reach out to get in touch. The greater our membership, the more we can do.
Here’s to another active year!
P.S. If you have already renewed for the membership year that runs July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, many thanks! If you joined in June or later, your membership applies to this current year. If you are uncertain about your membership status, our wonderful treasurer Pam Bessler will be glad to answer any of your questions. Her e-mail is email@example.com.
The Great Recession is over, right?
In a recent hearing about school complexity funding (an additional boost of funds to schools with more disadvantaged kids) at the Indiana Statehouse, State Representative Tim Brown was quick to assert that Indiana is doing better financially. We are not as poor as we were. Maybe he's right according to the metric he uses. However, when we look at free and reduced lunch rates (FRL), we see a different picture.
Background on Free and Reduced Lunch Rates
FRL is part of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, which began in 1946 under Harry Truman. Most states--32—use FRL rates to measure poverty in schools. The FRL income rates are federally determined by multiplying the current year’s federal income poverty guidelines by 1.30 (free meals) and 1.85 (reduced price meals). For example, the 2019 federal income poverty level for a family of four is a maximum $25,750 annually. Multiply that amount by 1.30, and the maximum annual income for free lunch is $33,475. Multiply it by 1.85, and the maximum annual income for reduced lunch is $47,638. In addition, the following qualify for free lunch: children who are in households that receive benefits from SNAP Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), children who are in HeadStart, children who are in foster homes, and children who meet the definition of homeless, migrant, or runaway.
Complexity funding in Indiana was based only on FRL rates for a number of years. However, in 2015 lawmakers decided to shift to using the number of students who receive food stamps (SNAP), welfare (TANF), or are in foster care (keep in mind that education funding has not kept up with inflation in Indiana, so districts were, and still are, grabbing for fewer dollars). That narrowed the group of students, and funding since 2015 to help educate disadvantaged students has fallen by 30 percent. School administrators are concerned that the current method is undercounting high-need students.
Granted, FRL is not a perfect indicator of poverty. This was mentioned by Daniel Thatcher from the National Conference of State Legislators in the hearing about complexity funding at Indiana’s Statehouse in October. The same meeting where Rep. Brown said “Indiana isn't as poor anymore.”
While some critics may say that the data captures those up to 185% above federal poverty level, and that that's too high, it's important to note that families, especially those with children under 18, face economic stress even if they aren't earning below the federal poverty level. “The federal poverty level is not a very good measure of need. It’s too low,” said Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow studying food insecurity with the Urban Institute, a think tank that also presented at that hearing on complexity funding.
Another problem with FRL is that it is self-reported. If a parent or guardian chooses not to report for whatever reason—pride, immigration status, inability to read the paperwork, too busy working too many jobs, etc.—then funding that should go to the student can be lost. On the flip side, it’s possible for a household to not be honest about its income in order to receive free or reduced price meals. Another problem is that since 2010, kids who qualify for SNAP, TANF, or are in foster care automatically qualify for FRL. This slightly bumps up FRL numbers from 2010 onwards, capturing kids that may have slipped through the cracks in prior years due to the self-reporting flaw.
Problems aside, FRL is a metric used by IDOE. It indicates relative poverty. It is used to analyze data from attendance, and graduation rates to homelessness and test scores. It is present on Compass going all the way back to 2005. There is value in this metric, even with its flaws.
Free and Reduced Lunch Rates from 2005-06 to 2019-20
How are families with kids in school faring in 2019–20 compared to similar families in 2005–06? In Monroe County and surrounding areas, families with school-aged children appear to have gotten poorer—in some districts, dramatically so. FRL rates have climbed. Collectively, these families aren't in the same financial position as their 2005–06 counterparts.
The FRL rates for the years 2005–06 and 2018–19 are as follows. Note the percentage change between the first and second numbers, which is presented in the last column. Of this group of neighboring districts, Monroe County Community School Corporation had the lowest percentage increase in FRL, at 7.9%, whereas North Lawrence saw an increase of 63.9%.
Not Only Is Poverty Higher, Rural Populations Are Shrinking
Some rural communities are losing residents. Industries may have shut down. People may have moved elsewhere for work. People may be having fewer children, or may be sending their children elsewhere for schooling. Since school funding is based mainly on per-student tuition support, fewer kids means less money for schools.
The Problem Is Greater than the Schools
The hollowing out of rural populations, and the intensification of poverty in rural areas, is not something that a school district or city can fix alone. It requires state-level decisions like reforming the tax system, addressing minimum wage, and truly investing in infrastructure, including in public education.
What You Can Do
When poverty goes up, so does the importance of public schools in children’s lives as stable places with caring adults. For example, many schools now serve supper in addition to breakfast and lunch to ensure children are fed. Your attention to the environment in your child’s school matters. Faced with a budget crunch, some school districts are consolidating and cutting programs like arts and languages. Some may lack full-time nurses, librarians, and counselors. Consistently ask your child about what’s going on in school. Talk to your child’s teachers. Ask them if you can help in any way. Attend school board meetings. Call your legislator and meet with them to talk about the problems in your community. Get engaged. Vote for public education.
–Keri Miksza and Jenny Robinson
P.S. How Are the Schools in Tim Brown's District?
It occurred to us that maybe the schools in Tim Brown's district were actually faring better than the ones in Monroe County and surrounding areas, and maybe that would be why he sticks to his one metric and insists that Indiana is doing better. So, we looked it up.
While only one school district in his area has FRL rates over 50%, both Western Boone and Sheridan Community Schools have seen their free lunch rates almost double since the 2005–06 school year.
Representative Brown is choosing to keep company with facts that are different than the ones on the ground, in the schools and homes where the kids in his district spend their days. It may be that he doesn’t regard the free and reduced lunch rates as relevant. After all, back in 2015 he said, “Did Mary’s mother get arrested the night before? Did Johnny not come with shoes to school? Those to me are not core issues of education.”
* Lebanon CSC FRL number for 2005-06 is 2006-07 because the 2005-06 reported number is incomplete.
*All table and graph data presented in this post come from IDOE Compass.
This guest post is by author, educator, and consultant Ray Golarz. For almost 20 years, Dr. Golarz directed work with at-risk children and gangs near Chicago. In addition, he did extensive work with juvenile courts, probation offices, and police departments.
There’s no way to know of some of the marvelous things that principals and teachers do…unless, of course, you stumble upon such accidentally.
It was a spectacular spring day. From my office, I could see Johnny, the Director of Buildings and Grounds, walking briskly through the sun-filled hallway.
“Johnny, found that portable classroom yet?”
I was having a little fun with him. Last year we were using ten of the portable classrooms. Two were sitting idle—well, one was sitting idle. The whereabouts of the second was unknown.
In the school business you get used to having some things occasionally disappear: library books, computers, basketballs, baseball equipment, even once a fairly sizable, portable soccer backstop—but a portable classroom? Never before lost a portable classroom.
I knew it was a sensitive spot for Johnny, so I let up, laughed and said, “Johnny, don’t worry. We’ll find it. I mean, really. How far can you get with a hot portable? Where would you fence it?”
Later that week, Johnny and I were visiting some elementary schools. Teachers never get enough visitors and I always found it to be an uplifting experience. We drove to the last school on our list and as we circled the school grounds, we marveled at the beautiful flower beds surrounding the new parent center behind the school. The new parent center—what an attractive gift to the poor parents of this community.
We stopped. As we sat there, not looking at one another, Johnny asked, “Ray, what would you estimate the size of that freshly painted, one-room parent center, surrounded by beautiful flowers, to be?”
“You mean is it possible that the parent center with the flower boxes under the windows and new white gutters and down spouts is about the same size as a missing classroom portable?”
We went into the building to find Nancy the principal. In the hallway we ran into her. Surprised, she exclaimed. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. Have you time to stop at the parent center?”
“Nancy, that’s what we need to talk to you about.”
“Great, let’s talk in the parent center; it’s not as full now as in the morning. Can’t even find elbow room in there in the mornings.”
“Full? What are you talking about, Nancy?”
“Well, we opened the center about six weeks ago. Within a week, by 6:30 a.m. it was full of young mothers. They found out that a number of our teachers were coming in early to teach a few mothers how to read. Well, they all wanted to learn to read. Run three morning classes now, an hour each, starting at 5 a.m., about twenty in a class. Teachers rotate the teaching of the classes.”
“They come at 5 a.m.?”
“Some would come earlier. If they stay at home, their drunken exes or boyfriends coming in from the bars look to beat them up, then rape ‘em unless they consent. It’s a bad situation for these young women. Poor is not a good thing to be in America. But, I’m sorry. Here I am running off at the mouth, and you wanted to talk to me about something.”
I looked at Johnny, then said, “It can wait, Nancy. It can wait.”
We had our visit. Even enjoyed doughnuts made by the teachers. As we passed the center in our car, we stopped for a final look.
“What do you think, Johnny?”
Johnny quietly responded, “Think the portable we’re lookin’ for is smaller. I’m sure it’s smaller.”
I smiled, winked and responded, “Think you’re right, Johnny. Think you’re right.”
ILEARN and free lunch data in Indiana offer a window onto public, charter, and private schools and the populations they serve
Free lunch rates are a proxy for family income levels. To qualify for free lunch, you need to make 130%, or lower, of what the federal government has set as the poverty level for a family of a given size. In 2018–19, that was about $33,000 for a family of four. A high free lunch rate means that a school serves mainly low-income families, many of whom are likely dealing with the stresses of poverty: food insecurity, unemployment, multiple low-paying jobs, irregular medical care, transient housing situations, and transportation challenges. A low free lunch rate, on the other hand, means that a school serves a more affluent population with more of its basic needs met.*
In the course of looking into how free lunch rates are related to ILEARN passing rates, we got valuable information about what income levels different types of Indiana schools—all publicly funded—are serving. Among public, charter, Catholic, Lutheran, and “independent” (other religious private) schools, there are clear trends, and clear aggregate differences, in student bodies when it comes to wealth, poverty, and the stretch between.
How do free lunch rates differ at the different types of schools? Here are some takeaways:
1) Public schools serve the most students and the broadest range of students. Some public schools have very low free lunch rates, some have very high ones, and many are in the broad middle: they are densest in the 25% to 75% free lunch range. There are many public schools in the 0–25% range, and slightly fewer in the 75–100% range.
Because there are so many public schools, the dots representing schools form a large oblong shape, like a big diagonal fish, and you can clearly see the close connection of free lunch rate and ILEARN scores.
2) The bulk of charter schools serve higher-poverty populations, likely because many are in the urban cores of Indiana’s cities. Only eleven of the 59 charter schools pictured here serve a population in the first two quartiles of free lunch, the 0–50% range. The rest are pretty evenly distributed throughout the 50–100% range, but with a number clustered on the 100% mark. (There are about 100 charters in Indiana this year, but about forty do not have populations that were tested—probably because they are high schools only.)
Keep in mind that the number of charter schools is different than the number of charter students. About a quarter of charter students attend poorly performing online (“virtual”) charter schools. That’s not visible in the ILEARN data because those online schools are mainly high schools, whose students did not take English and math ILEARN.
3) Lutheran schools are clustered in the lowest poverty (0–25%) quartile, with some in the 25–50% range and only three total schools in the 50–100% range. Lutheran schools are not evenly distributed. They are serving well-off students, relatively speaking. They appear to have lower average ILEARN performance than public schools with similar free lunch rates.
4) Catholic (Archdiocese) schools are densest in the lowest poverty (0–25%) quartile, with a fair number in the 25–50% quartile, fewer in the 50–75% quartile, and very few in the 75–100% free lunch quartile. Their scores are no higher on average than those of public schools with similar free lunch demographics. As public schools do, they show a strong connection between scores and free lunch rates.
5) Independent schools (mainly religious schools that are neither Catholic nor Lutheran) are all over the map both in terms of free lunch rate and scores. While the free lunch/ILEARN score connection is present, many have lower scores than the public school trend line would predict.
Looking at these graphs, it’s impossible to argue that publicly funded schools that are not public are showing higher achievement (as measured by ILEARN) than public schools when you take into account the income levels of the populations they serve. That’s probably why some well-bankrolled entities advocating for “choice”—i.e., the diversion of public funds into private and privatized schools—have pretty much abandoned that line of argument. Others are still making it despite evidence to the contrary.
What, then, is the Indiana supermajority's rationale for moving public money into schools that do not have the same transparency requirements, obligations to serve all students, and democratic local governance as public schools? In the case of the Catholic and Lutheran schools, money is leaving the public school system, further depleting inadequate funds, to go to private schools that disproportionately serve more affluent students.
When state grades based on ILEARN are given to schools, they will reward the affluent and punish the poor, just as they did with ISTEP. This is not an occasional problem, a bug, but rather a feature that is baked into the school grading system. Teachers rallying at the Indiana Statehouse on November 19 will be demanding that legislators hold schools and educators harmless for low scores in this first year of ILEARN. But even if legislators and the State Board of Education respond as they should, it will not address the larger problem: that grading schools based on test scores consistently labels and harms schools and educators serving vulnerable populations.
Do your state representative and senator approve of that? Do they vote to transfer taxpayer dollars away from public schools into other, less accountable types of schools? Have you asked them? Have you conveyed your concerns? When you talk to your local legislators, we encourage you to print out these graphs, which use data from the Indiana Department of Education.
–Keri Miksza and Jenny Robinson
*It’s important to note that free lunch rates don’t tell us about the extremes and are limited in their description of an area’s income. For instance, a school with a 20% free lunch population could potentially have a higher average income among its families than one that served 10% free lunch.