Was Monday’s special session the death knell of accountability in Indiana?
How can the General Assembly vote that Muncie public schools don’t need to follow the accountability and school letter grades law without questioning the need for any school to have letter grades. Their action Monday leaves a huge question mark over the accountability mandates that have dominated Indiana education policy since 1999.
The Indiana General Assembly opened a new can of worms called “beyond accountability” when they passed House Bill 1315ss by votes of 63-30 in the House and 34-14 in the Senate. The roll call showing individual votes is below.
As planned, no amendments were allowed in the contentious bill.
If the supermajority party had a plan to dampen controversial election issues before the November elections, that plan got tossed out on the way to passing an extremely controversial bill which will resonate through November.
Three Firsts in Indiana History
When the history of public education in Indiana is written, the special session approving House Bill 1315ss will serve as a landmark moment when threepreviously unassailable pillars of public education were knocked off. As a result of this bill, which went through finance committees but not education committees, public education has changed in three ways:
Pillar 4: Every public school district should be run by a school board of district residents.
In my Notes #321, I described the deconstruction of public education in Indiana, pillar by pillar. I cited three pillars that have already fallen and more pillars that would fall if HB 1315 is passed.
They have now fallen, starting with an attack on school boards and the basic belief held for the past 180 years that every public school district should be run by a school board of district residents.
The passage of HB 1315 has dissolved the elected school board in Gary and turned it into an advisory board, a move that Gary leaders including Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson vigorously and futilely denounced. The new law includes no pathway to return to having a school board.
In Muncie, as many as three of the seven school board members appointed by Ball State can be non-resident outsiders. Allowing outsiders to serve on a geographically based public school district is a first for Indiana history and forces everyone to rethink the meaning of democratic self-rule.
How can this be considered democratic representation when school board members are not from Muncie?
Representative Tim Brown, the bill’s author, said in defending this stark departure from previous school board law that the Ball State appointed board might need to have a member who is an expert from Indianapolis, maybe from the Mind Trust. Here is his exact quote as he presented the bill on the floor of the House:
“Maybe we could have a specialist from education that came out of – maybe could come out of Indianapolis, somebody who has dealt with a turnaround school and innovation going forward. Maybe somebody from the Mind Trust could be on the school board, something like that.”
I wonder how that comment is going over among the electorate and property tax payers of Muncie who have now lost their right to elect their school board members with no legal provision to return to local elections.
The Senate version of HB 1315 inserted a plan to elect two board members starting in 2022. Senator Mishler, however, lost the argument to Representative Brown in the Conference Committee, and Representative Brown’s vision of an entirely appointed board pushed Senator Mishler’s election plan aside.
Pillar 5: Every public school district should follow the education laws of Indiana.
For the first time in Indiana history, a public school district will be not have to follow hundreds of Indiana education laws, including the bullying prevention law and the law requiring instruction in child abuse and child sexual abuse. This makes the Muncie public school district, which must follow only 29 laws listed in HB 1315, essentially equivalent to a charter school, which must follow only 21 laws listed in the charter school law.
This change clearly undermines the Indiana Constitution in Article 8 which says the General Assembly has a duty “to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition will be without charge and equally open to all.”
It is no longer a “general and uniform system” if all public school districts must follow hundreds of education laws except for Muncie which must only follow 29.
Pillar 6: The accountability law applies to every public and private school.
For the first time since its 1999 passage, the General Assembly has given a school district a pass on following the accountability law, a dominating law established with bipartisan action that has been given the highest priority for two decades.
No group of schools has ever been excluded from the accountability law:
Now, Muncie schools will not have to follow the accountability law.
When Minority Leader Terry Goodin objected to this fact in Monday’s debate, Representative Brown said that Ball State would have to report back to the General Assembly and to the Distressed Unit Appeals Board in 9 months, implying that this report would provide accountability.
Apparently, giving a report to the General Assembly is now equal to school letter grades which under IC 20-31 can threaten the future existence of a school. The General Assembly’s hard-nose stance on accountability has been changed for the first time. Have we now entered the “beyond accountability” era of report and reassure?
I’m quite sure many school districts would trade the punitive letter grade law for a report to the General Assembly about their progress.
Representative Goodin asked Representative Brown if following the accountability law could be amended back into the bill as a third reading amendment or in the next session. Representative Brown said “we will consider all things” but “I don’t again want to commit to the future.”
With that comment, the accountability law in Indiana has entered a new controversial era of selective enforcement.
Partisan Support and Bipartisan Opposition in the House
Three Republicans in the House joined all 27 Democrats voting to oppose HB 1315ss. They should be thanked.
Republicans voting against HB 1315ss: Representatives Nisly, Saunders and Siegrist
Democrats voting against HB 1315ss: Representatives Austin, Bartlett, Bauer, C. Brown, Candelaria Reardon, DeLaney, Dvorak, Errington, GiaQuinta, Goodin, Hamilton, Harris, Hatfield, Klinker, Lawson, Macer, Moed, Moseley, Pelath, Pierce, Porter, Pryor, Shackleford, V. Smith, Summers, J. Taylor and Wright.
All 63 voting to pass HB 1315ss were Republicans: Representatives Abbott, Aylesworth, Bacon, Baird, Bartels, Beumer, Borders, Bosma, T. Brown, Burton, Carbaugh, Cherry, Clere, Cook, Davisson, DeVon, Eberhart, Ellington, Engleman, Friend, Frizzell, Frye, Gutwein, Hamm, Heaton, Heine, Huston, Jordan, Judy, Karickhoff, Kirchhofer, Lehe, Lehman, Leonard, Lindauer, Lucas, Lyness, Mahan, May, Mayfield, Miller, Morrison, Morris, Negele, Olthoff, Pressel, Richardson, Schaibley, Slager, Smaltz, M. Smith, Soliday, Steuerwald, Sullivan, Thompson, Torr, VanNatter, Washburne, Wesco, Wolkins, J. Young, Zent and Ziemke.
Five were excused from voting: Representatives Behning, Culver, Kersey, McNamara and Speedy
Two did not vote: Representatives Forestal and Stemler
Partisan Support and Bipartisan Opposition in the Senate
Six Republicans in the Senate joined all 8 Democrats voting to oppose HB 1315ss. They should be thanked as well.
Republicans voting against HB 1315ss: Senators Alting, Becker, Bohacek, Ford, Ruckleshaus and Tomes.
Democrats voting against HB 1315ss: Senators Lanane, Melton, Mrvan, Niezgodski, Randolph, Stoops, Tallian and Taylor.
All 34 voting to pass 1315ss were Republicans: Senators Bassler, Boots, Bray, Brown, Buchanan, Buck, Crane, Crider, Delph, Doriot, Eckerty, Freeman, Glick, Grooms, Head, Holdman, Houchin, Koch, Kruse, Leising, Long, Merritt, Messmer, Mishler, Niemeyer, Perfect, Raatz, Sandlin, Smith, Spartz, Walker, Young, Zakas and Zay.
Two were excused from voting: Senators Breaux and Charbonneau
Three more pillars have now fallen
The controversies of House Bill 1315 go deep into the fabric of public education:
These surprising outcomes of a short session now become the fodder for the fall election debates if the candidates or the voters take actions to make them issues in the campaign.
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!
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Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana. In April, I was honored to receive the 2018 Friend of Education Award from the Indiana State Teachers Association.