Below are state-level bills that ICPE-Monroe County has been following closely. These bills primarily have to do with vouchers, charters and/or funding. These are only a handful of education bills reviewed by the Statehouse this year. To read about the others, see ISTA’s legislative review here.
The summary below is pulled from this review by ISTA. We are incredibly grateful for all the work ISTA does lobbying, negotiating and reporting on education matters at the Statehouse.
Bills That Became Law
HB 1001 State Biennial Budget - The school funding formula provides an average increase in regular education funding at 1.6 percent in 2018 and 1.5 percent in 2019. They are well below recent increases given in FY 2014 (2.0%), in FY 2016 (2.3%) and in the current year FY 2017 (2.3%).You can read more in Vic’s Notes.
In the budget for 2018-2019, the total investment in new charter schools is $35 million.
Voucher schools receive a significant increase in funding in the budget, going from a total commitment of $146 million in 2017 to $156 million in 2018, a 7.2 percent increase. Vouchers will receive another $167 million in 2019, a 6.9 percent increase. The amount of the actual voucher is tied to public school K-12 funding. This percentage increase is in growth of the voucher program, not necessarily the growth in the voucher amount per student.
The budget increased the private school voucher tax credit from the current $9.5 million per year to $12.5 million in 2018 and again to $14 million in 2019. The tax credit is mostly being leveraged by Indiana’s wealthiest taxpayers to support private school tuition.
HB 1004 PreK Funding - The enacted version settled on $22 million each year, up from the current $10 million. The bill allows the voucher pathway only if the parents choose the same school to continue their child's education. However, this is now the 7th pathway one can take to become voucher eligible. The bill includes the virtual pre-K program with up to $1 million each year for funding. You can read more here.
HB 1005 Appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction - Beginning in 2025, the state superintendent of public instruction will be replaced with a secretary of education appointed by the governor. ICPE opposed the bill, as it takes away voters' rights to elect a state education leader.
HB 1007 - Education Course Access Program - This bill creates a course-based voucher program that enables students to enroll and pay for online courses funded by the student's public school. In effect, the operation of this bill would force school districts to contract out educational services at a parent's or student's request.
IDOE will develop the catalog of courses to be made available. It is important to question who will be teaching these online courses. And also note that school districts already arrange for alternative courses for students when authentic needs arise relative to course offerings. Yet, supporters convinced lawmakers that this authorization would somehow help smaller school districts.
This is a model bill created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). There is little doubt that it is part of a national agenda promoting the privatization of public education, and its implementation should be closely monitored.
HB 1382 Charters - The bill makes numerous changes to charter school accountability.
A good thing: It requires financial disclosure and conflicts of interest statements to be filed for local charter board members.
A bad thing: The bill enables 90 percent of charter school teachers to be licensed under "any license or permit," which effectively means that individuals who hold a substitute teacher license will be considered within the 90 percent of licensed or permitted teachers employed in charter schools. The genesis of this provision likely had its roots in a recent State Board of Education decision denying a waiver to a charter school that was operating in violation of the existing licensing rules.
Public school students, be they in charters or traditional schools, deserve properly trained, licensed teachers.
One more bad thing: The bill also grants charter authorizer status as state education authorities for federal purposes, potentially posing Family and Education Rights Privacy Act risks related to access to student data.
HB 1384 High School Graduation/Removal of Accountability for Voucher Schools - This bill originally focused on the calculation of graduation rates, but early on an amendment was added enabling D and F private voucher schools to skirt existing accountability standards.
Under current law, if a private voucher school has two consecutive years as a D or F school, it loses its right to receive new vouchers. Under this bill, the State Board of Education would be allowed to grant an annual waiver or a delay of that single accountability sanction, if "a majority of students demonstrated academic improvement" from the prior year.
The new standard for private voucher schools makes it glaringly clear that academic improvement is certainly not the same thing as performance on standardized tests—the latter being the standard which drives accountability for community-based public schools.
On the positive side, the bill removes the second window previously granted to voucher schools for enrolling students during the second semester.
The bill also allows the State Board of Education to accredit new private schools in their first year of operation so that these schools can enter the state's voucher program right away. The result is that the pool of voucher students could expand further without first requiring one year of operation before the school becomes eligible to accept vouchers, ultimately giving these schools access to tax dollars before any track record of performance is evidenced.
SB 567 Distressed School Districts/Fiscally Impaired School Districts - This began as a bill to assist the Gary Community School Corporation in dealing with some extreme fiscal conditions.
The bill evolved over the course of the legislative session into a bill that could have taken over both the Gary Community Schools and the Muncie Community School Corporation.
However, a team of community members, including the Muncie Teachers Association together with ISTA, prevented a state takeover with the pledge that Muncie can plan itself out of its fiscal difficulties.
Gary schools continue to be declared "a distressed unit" and will have an emergency manager, a chief fiscal officer and a chief academic officer running its operation.
Muncie Schools is declared a fiscally impaired school district through the end of this calendar year. The district will have an emergency manager, who may be the current superintendent, but there is no requirement for chief fiscal or academic officers. The law affords the district a chance to get out from the fiscally impaired and a potential distressed unit status by the end of the year.
Bills That Died
Below are some key bills that did not become law. These are just a few. To read about the others, see ISTA’s review.
SB 534 Special Education Accounts - This bill would have established the Indiana Special Education Scholarship Account program, a further expansion of school choice in Indiana, beyond the state's controversial private school voucher program. The legislation is part of the ALEC model bill portfolio.
Under the bill, students who have been identified as having a disability, which requires special education services would have qualified for an education savings account (ESA). Unlike Indiana's current school voucher program, the student's family would receive 100 percent of the funding that their local public district would have received from the state, versus up to 90 percent for a school voucher.
Families could have used the ESA funds to pay outside service providers.
ISTA opposed the bill. Sen. Kruse heard the bill in committee but announced that he would not move it further, rendering it dead in the Senate and for this 2017 session.
HB 1386 Competency-based Education - The bill would have established a competency-based education pilot program, a system under which a student advances to higher levels of learning once he/she demonstrates competency in concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace. The bill would have opened the door to more virtual-type programming and would have posed issues with students rushing through curricula. Research shows that fast-tracking learning reduces knowledge retention.
This bill passed out of the House but failed to pass in the Senate.
HB 1383 Elementary School Teachers -The introduced version of HB 1383 would have required every elementary school teacher initially licensed after 2021 to secure specialization in a specific content area and would have eliminated the elementary generalist license. Testimony against the bill clarified that current course requirements already include content areas.
Current licensure requirements call for all candidates to complete a content minor or concentration area. And along the way, all candidates must pass the Indiana CORE assessment, which covers reading/language arts, math, science, health and physical education and social studies and fine arts.
In the face of opposition, Rep. Behning (R- Indianapolis) offered an amendment to the bill that took a step back by directing the State Board of Education to establish, "one or more elementary school teacher content area licenses that must, at a minimum, include a content area license that includes math and science." But, that effort failed, too, rendering the current licensure system maintained.
HB 1591 - Education Options Account Program - This bill was the House version of the Education Savings Accounts bill in the Senate (See SB 534). This bill was an ALEC model for privatizing schools by allowing students to take advantage of individual accounts that would divert public tax dollars from school districts to private providers.
The House version was more expansive than even SB 534 by including all eligible students and not just special education.