Future of Schools

Here are the 29 education bills that passed the 2015 Indiana legislature

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The work of Indiana lawmakers this year probably won’t be remembered primarily for its effect on schools — given the national debate that erupted over “religious freedom” — but in fact they made a series of changes to the way the state manages schools, tests students and pays for education.

Back in December, Gov. Mike Pence called for 2015 to be an “education session” for the legislature. In the end, more education bills died than were passed, and some of Pence’s ideas were revised more than he probably preferred. But some schools will come away from 2015 with more money (and others with less), students will see shorter state tests, struggling schools could find themselves facing state takeover sooner and the Indiana State Board of Education will see a major overhaul.

Here are the 29 education bills that passed the Indiana legislature in 2015:

Testing changes

  • Shorten the test. Senate Bill 62 was rewritten and sped through the legislature to shorten ISTEP by at least three hours before students started taking the test in February. Pence signed it into law almost immediately.
  • Required remediation. House Bill 1637 makes changes to a law that requires students who score poorly on state tests to be identified for extra help.
  • Study replacing ISTEP. Senate Bill 566 originally would have replaced ISTEP with a national test, but after a long debate lawmakers decided to study that idea over the summer instead. It also makes some changes to laws related to teachers unions and teacher evaluation and creates a new avenue for those with college majors in science, technology, engineering or math to become teachers.

School funding

  • Funding formula. House Bill 1001, the state budget, included big changes in school funding. Wealthy, fast-growing suburban districts benefited more than districts with large numbers of poor children. The budget also included more money for charter schools and vouchers, added support for English language learning programs and a $100 tax credit for teachers who spend their own money on school supplies.
  • School capital projects. Senate Bill 476 makes changes to the way the tax rate is calculated for school capital funds.

Indiana State Board of Education

State takeover

  • School A-to-F grades. House Bill 1638, was originally about “transformation zones,” but it was rewritten to speed up the timeline by which a failing school can be taken over by the state to four straight years of F grades from six years.

Teachers

  • Innovation school networks. House Bill 1009 was once the “freedom to teach” bill, which would have made big changes to rules surrounding teachers unions. Instead, the bill was rewritten to expand the “innovation school network” idea, which previously applied only to Indianapolis Public Schools, to allow more school districts to partner with outside groups, such as charter school networks. The bill also includes a “career pathways” pilot program, which IPS had lobbied for. The district is working on ideas to give extra pay to teachers who take on leadership roles.
  • Student teaching. House Bill 1188 aims to ensure that student teachers are assigned only to be mentored by teachers who are rated effective or highly effective.
  • Union-related rules. House Bill 1483 makes mostly small changes to union-related rules, such as requirements for teachers to make up training if it is missed because of a snow day and allowances for non-union employees to serve on district committees. But also added to this bill were several concepts from other bills. Among them, the bill would remove a requirement that bus monitors have the same visual strength as drivers.
  • Union representation. Senate Bill 538 gives more rights to professional organizations that are not unions to serve teachers as long as they are not primarily commercial companies, but it is less far-reaching than the original “freedom to teach” concept that started out as House Bill 1009. It also calls for a yearly “teacher bill of rights” to be distributed to teachers. The bill originally would have required all school districts to hold new elections to allow teachers to decide if they wanted to keep their union representatives, but that section was dropped after an amendment to the bill was added in committee. The bill can still trigger new elections to affirm union representation in some cases.

School choice

Students and schools

  • Student Discipline. House Bill 1635 originally was about dual language immersion programs, but that concept was moved to Senate Bill 267. Instead, this bill was retooled to support schools that want to try new ideas to improve school climate and discipline. Schools can apply for grants for such programs, or for teacher training. For Marion County schools, the bill requires they report school suspension and expulsions broken down by race, gender, family income and for students in special education, making for easier study of trends. The bill also requires rural school districts to provide busing to charter schools if they do the same for private schools and allows for school building transfers from townships to consolidated schools.
  • High school diplomas. House Bill 1194 calls for study of whether Indiana should change diploma types to ensure they accommodate students in special education and career and technical programs.
  • Safety drills. House Bill 1414 requires schools to hold more safety drills.
  • DeregulationSenate Bill 500 was designed to reduce regulations on schools. But it was scaled back to remove sections on student health care, school safety and worker safety reporting tax issues and more. The final bill removes a series of outdated state laws from the books and makes other non-controversial changes to state rules.
  • Foreign language learning. Senate Bill 267 ended up also incorporating concepts from House Bill 1635 to create a pilot to establish programs that would allow students to learn half the day in a foreign language, such as Chinese, Spanish or French. Plus it maintained its original language, which awards a special certificate to students who can demonstrate they are proficient in a second language.
  • Speed limits in school zones. Senate Bill 35 reduces the allowable speed in school zones.
  • Internet posting of information. Senate Bill 369 requires schools to post data on the Internet.
  • Recreational facility immunity. House Bill 1045 protects school-run recreational facilities from lawsuits.
  • Background checks. House Bill 1068 further defines what is required for a school background check.

Colleges

  • College financial assistance. House Bill 1333 makes changes to eligibility for a National Guard scholarship extension.
  • Medical schools. Senate Bill 123 is a technical bill altering the formal names of some university medical schools.
  •  Scholarships and grants. Senate Bill 509 would allow the Commission on Higher Education to ask the state to transfer money among scholarship and grant funds to meet the needs of students.
  •  Veteran tuition discounts. Senate Bill 434 allows nonresident veterans serving in the Indiana National Guard to pay discounted in-state tuition when they attend state colleges.
  • Student loans. House Bill 1042 aims to inform college students about their loan costs.

 Bills that died

More than 30 education-related bills were introduced and discussed in committees but ultimately failed to pass. Some of these ideas were added to other bills but most simply died:

  • Tax credits for teachers. House Bill 1005 would have given teachers a $200 tax credit for money they spend out of their own pockets for classroom supplies. Instead, a credit of up to $100 was included in the state budget.
  • Investigations of state test cheating. House Bill 1639 would have asked the Indiana Department of Education to work with the state board to craft procedures to investigate unusual ISTEP results.
  • Student disabilities and teacher licensing. House Bill 1437 would have required teachers demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies for helping disabled children.
  • School discipline. House Bill 1640 would have required schools to follow best practices to ensure fairness in discipline, and Senate Bill 443 would have made grants to schools that want to reduce suspension and expulsion and passed the Senate. Instead, steps to address school discipline were included in House Bill 1009.
  •  Gary school board. House Bill 1514 would have reduced the size of the school board in Gary and given the city the authority to appoint some members. The state budget included some specific plans for alerting the oversight of Gary schools.
  • STEM pathway network. House Bill 1222 would have set aside state funds to support the creation of STEM programs.
  • Return and complete grants. House Bill 1262 would have offered grants for students who completed some college but did not finish to return and seek degrees.
  • GAAP accounting. House Bill 1579 would have required school districts to convert to a Generally Accepted Accounting Principles system for managing finances. The possible costs of converting raised concerns.
  • Principal endorsement program. House Bill 1641 would have created a principal endorsement program at Western Governors University. The university asked for more time to consider the program.
  • School counseling. Senate Bill 277 would have required a guidance counselor in every Indiana school.
  • Donations to education foundations. Senate Bill 187 would have let school districts donate funds to nonprofit charity foundations or endowment corporations if donations were matched by a private donor.
  • College and career counseling. Senate Bill 271 would have established a grant to help school counselors obtain certificates to better help them prepare students for college and jobs after high school.
  • Health and sex education. Senate Bill 497 would have had the Indiana Department of Education and the state department of health to work together to develop updated health and wellness standards and then report back to the legislature on those findings.
  •  School nutrition. Senate Bill 526 would have asked the Department of Education work with school districts to ensure they are complying with federal guidelines and policies about student nutrition.
  • Required physical exams for athletic association. Senate Bill 119 proposed to change when students had to get physical exams from doctors to within two weeks of the students’ birthdays, rather than at other times during the year. State school and medical officials said the change would create hardships for students and families.
  • Bus Aides. Senate Bill 339 would make a fix to current law so that bus monitors, who mind children but do not drive, are not required to meet the same requirements as the drivers for having strong eyesight. This concept ended up in House Bill 1483.
  • Accelerated degree program. House Bill 1231 would have created college scholarships for students who participate in an accelerated degree program.
  • Cursive writing. Senate Bill 130 would have required all public and private elementary schools teach cursive writing, which was dropped as a requirement by the Indiana Department of Education in 2011.
  • “Merry Christmas” bill. Senate Bill 233 would have added language to current law to allow schools to have displays related to winter holidays, both religious and secular.
  • Ethnic history. Senate Bill 495 would have required elementary and high schools to teach about ethnic minority groups in their social studies curriculum.
  • STEM dual-credit pilot program. Senate Bill 259 would have created a pilot program to allow students to take classes toward an associate’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math by the time they graduate high school. This idea instead became part of Senate Bill 566.
  • School climate grants. Senate Bill 443 would prevent schools from suspending or expelling students based solely on attendance. It also provides grant money for schools to adopt positive, “evidence-based” discipline approaches and training for teachers and staff. The concept ended up in House Bill 1635.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”