talking shop

Richard Carranza’s back-to-school checklist: less paperwork, clearer lines of responsibility, and a hard look at gifted programs

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
When students head back to class in September, it will mark the chancellor's first full school year.

Richard Carranza jokes that his colleagues must be tired of hearing him ask the same questions.

Four months into his role as New York City’s schools chief, Carranza has had a chance to get under the hood of the country’s largest school system. And for each policy the city pursues, Carranza wants to know: “What’s our return on investment? How do we know? How do we prove it?”

His attention to hard numbers is just one of the ways that Carranza’s tenure promises to be different from that of his predecessor, who favored stories over statistics. He has charted his own course in other ways, by tackling school segregation head-on, and shaking up the leadership structure for how schools are supported. (Still, he’s not going at it totally alone: Carranza said he grabs coffee periodically with former chancellor Carmen Fariña, whom he called a “great lady.”)

Carranza’s new approach will get tested this September when more than a million students head back to school — ushering in his first full school year as chancellor.

In an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat, Carranza made it clear that he enters the year with more big questions on his mind, like whether New York City’s approach to gifted admissions is fair. He’s also finding some things he likes about the current system — toning down some of his early criticism of the city’s controversial Renewal school turnaround program. And he’s already thinking about what he wants his legacy to be in New York City.

Here are highlights from our Friday interview, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

How have you been spending your summer? What have been your priorities and who have you been meeting with?

This summer has been super busy. I spent a lot of time, obviously, with the reorganization. (Carranza pared down his executive staff and added new roles, including executive superintendents and a Chief Academic Officer. Read more here.) I’ve been interviewing and hiring people. We’ve been also doing some reconfiguration with how the Department of Education is organized so that we’re better able to function on delivering what we’ve promised. I’ve been spending a lot of time still — it’s a big city — meeting people.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development with principals and teachers and central office people. One of the things I really try to do is not just drive by, “Hey everybody. It’s nice being here.” And then I’m out. I try to actually spend time, and preferably at least half a day — which is really hard to do, and sometimes I can only spend an hour or two. I really want to get a flavor: What is it that we’re doing in terms of professional development?

What I’ve also been doing is, as I learn more and more and more about the DOE and what the initiatives have been over the last four of five years, trying to understand where we are with them. I think people are kind of sick of me around Tweed, because I keep asking, ‘So what’s the return on investment? How do we know? How can we prove it?’

One of the things that I’ve heard a lot of comment about from folks in the department and school-based folks has been the weight of bureaucracy on the day-to-day work. By that I mean the paperwork that people have to do or the processes to get stuff done that may not make sense. One of the directives I’ve given to the folks is “weeding the garden.” We need to weed the garden of stuff that’s just a time suck or it’s not helpful to the work that we do.

What specifically do you think should happen at schools that are low performing? When you took the job, you meet with people around the city and produced a report where you talked about schools needing more support. But what should happen after schools have received support and improvement isn’t clear?

I believe that when you look at improving schools or empowering schools to improve, one of the things that you can’t do is just looking at that on a short-term basis. By that I mean: You can name the schools, you can put them in a group of schools, you can invest resources, and then once they get better, you take away the resources. Well guess what? They’re going to go right back.

A much better approach is to really look at the conditions. Do a root cause analysis. What are the challenges that schools face — and not just the school, but the community? You also have to do a systems scan, and by that I mean: Are there policies, are there decisions that are made that are not inside their control? For example, have we changed a boundary line? Have we implemented a screen somewhere? Have we implemented a specialized program somewhere that impacts, negatively, this school that we’re looking at? Then the third thing you have to do is then align resources based on that needs assessment — not for a certain amount of time but as a way of doing business.

We’re in the process of doing that analysis right now with all of our schools. Obviously, schools that had previously been named as Renewal schools and even the schools that have moved into a Rise status, they’re part of that list. But there are other schools as well.

But after you’ve done those levels of analysis and you feel like schools have been given adequate time, is there an end point? Do you believe in school closures at all, after all those things have been tried?

I think we have to be able to serve students. I don’t talk about school closures because when you start talking about, “The end is going to be the ax,” then that’s never been very motivating for anybody. What I talk about is what we’re going to do in advance, and the process. But I guarantee you in every school I’ve ever worked with, when you’re really clear about that needs assessment, you’re really clear about the current condition, you’re really clear about where you want to get, the process itself will make it very clear: If we’re not able to do this, then we have to do something different for the students we serve.

But I really don’t talk about school closures because that’s really not a goal.

But even if it’s not a goal, is it a policy tool that could be used?

Let me be clear: I’m not scared of closing a school if it’s not serving the needs of the student. My experience, nine times out of 10, has been that we haven’t done all we can do, to actually give schools that are struggling to improve, the right conditions, the right resources, and the right support to actually improve.

When we first sat down, one of your initial critiques of the Renewal program was that there hadn’t been a clear “theory of action” and that “makes it difficult” to talk about what outcomes to expect. You said you were working on this “very, very quickly.” So what is theory of action now, and what are the outcomes we should be looking for?

When we met, I hadn’t yet had a deep dive with the person who had taken over Renewal, Cheryl Watson Harris. I was extremely impressed by her strategic way of looking at the work. It coincided almost perfectly with the way I look at the work. You have to have great leadership. You have to empower. And you have to train teachers for the students you have. You have to have a strong curriculum. You have to have systems and structures in schools that replicate good practices. You have to have a social-emotional community schools approach, and you have to empower communities and parents. That’s why she’s now the senior deputy chancellor, in charge of all of the supervision of all of our schools.

So my theory of action is: If we take the time to do a root cause analysis, and understand all of the facets involved with a challenging school, if we align resources to meet those root cause issues, if you have the right people in place and if you are persistent over time, you will be able to turn around a school and make it a good academic learning environment.

Renewal was supposed to be a three-year program that’s now going into year four. What’s the plan after this year? Are there any changes in the works?

We’ve learned lessons from the Renewal implementation over the first three years. As you know, we’re about to announce nine executive superintendents, which will have a very strong academic leadership role in the geographically based field service centers in the city. Those executive superintendents will take on much more responsibility for those previously called Renewal schools And those nine executive superintendents will be networked, working as a group, around supporting the schools that are in their areas.

You had three and sometimes three or more people giving direction to Renewal schools. It was a little chaotic.

Now you’re going to have a very clear line of accountability. You’re going to have an executive superintendent working with the superintendent, supported horizontally by our school improvement strategies and teams. We’re going to have a much more coordinated way of not only doing the needs assessment that I talked about, but also making sure that we’re providing the appropriate supports and then holding ourselves accountable for what we say we’re going to do.

When you say “previously labeled Renewal schools,” do you imagine these schools will shed that label, and under this new structure, they will just be schools that get targeted support through that? Or is that a decision that’s not been made yet?

I don’t refer to them as Renewal schools, only because — not that that program has gone away, not that that focus has gone away — I just look at the work of improving schools in a little bit of a different lens. I call them “schools of opportunity,” because this is our opportunity to do some very specific, strategic work within schools.

What problems are the reorganization solving?

Part of my analysis, which was then confirmed when I did my listen and learn tour, was that it was confusing where accountability lied in the organization. So as principals worked to meet the needs of their schools, they often found it confusing as to who they went to, to get support.

In addition, it was very difficult for us to actually coordinate with agencies in the city or community-based organizations wanting to do work on a number of different issues like homelessness or foster care kids, because components of what we did to support those kinds of students were in various departments across the DOE. It was very hard to build a strategic way of doing the work. What the organizational shift did was solve for a lot of those issues. Like strands of work are now in like structures, led by someone who has a very clear line of accountability.

In the case of our academic program, what I found was that you had some really hard working people in Teaching and Learning doing a lot of great work around curriculum, coaching, leadership development, you name it. I had great, hard-working people working on issues relating to English Language Learners. Great, hard-working people in special education. But rarely did they work across each other’s silo to actually have an integrated way of doing the work. That’s why I created the Chief Academic Officer position. The Chief Academic Officer will be responsible for those three strands of district work.

I think a cabinet of 22 people, which is what I inherited — great people — it’s unwieldy. So the cabinet is shrunk to nine. My cabinet touch every aspect of everything that happens in the district. It’s my way of being able to not only collaborate but to give direction, hold accountable, and also be clear about implementation of initiatives that we have in the district.

Final thing I’m going to say: One of the biggest complaints that I heard from parents was, who do I go to? I have a problem in my school — who do I go to? And that’s why they ended up emailing me. So with the executive superintendents, there’s an executive superintendent for Staten Island who has the authority to make decisions for what happens on Staten Island, who has the responsibility for addressing and working with parents and community members on Staten Island, who is going to be intimately knowledgeable about what happens on Staten Island. In other words, it’s bringing the decision-making and accountability closer to the ground.

Heading in a different direction: What did you make of your visit to a Success Academy school? Eva Moskowitz, who runs that network, said that you seemed more friendly to charter schools. Is that an intentional shift?

I like to think I’m a collaborative guy. I think I’ve met pretty much all of the charter school leaders in New York City by now. My approach is always to talk about the work from the perspective of, “What’s good for kids and what’s the educational value in us working together?” I don’t go into those meetings assuming that I’m going to have an adverse reaction or an adverse relationship with anybody in the meeting. I never do that any way.

I’ve also made the effort to actually go into charters — Success Academy being one of them.

I will continue to look to find places where we can actually do collaborative work together if it’s going to help kids in New York City.

We want to talk about specialized high schools. You and the mayor have proposed a plan to admit more black and Hispanic students at the schools by eliminating the test that serves as the sole admissions factor. But the rest of the school system is also segregated, and many of our readers have asked whether you plan on taking an active role in desegregation efforts beyond specialized high schools.

Let’s go over the record. Within months of getting here, the mayor and I have now proposed a plan. Is it a perfect plan? Some people say yes, some people say no. But we’ve proposed a plan that’s never been proposed before around, ‘How are we going to create more opportunities for students in specialized schools?’

I think it’s also important to understand that when you talk about diversifying schools, you obviously are talking about not only diversifying the students who go to the schools, but then from the school improvement perspective, being really clear about what are the components that we want to make sure are working well in every school. As we work to improve schools that have historically not done well, you’re going to see more and more opportunity for students. But you can’t do that with just talking about integration. You also have to talk about curriculum. You have to talk about instruction. You have to talk about leadership. You have to talk about resource allocation.

And then you have to talk about systems and structures that advantage some schools and disadvantage other schools. That’s where the hard rub is because people will always equate that to a zero-sum game. I don’t think that anyone can deny that there are structures in our system that advantage some schools and disadvantage other schools, I’m asking the question: Is that ok? I think it’s a worthy conversation to have.

What personal role did you play in pushing for admissions changes at the specialized high schools?

The mayor and I, when we spoke about my coming to New York City, knew what he was getting. He knew how I grew up, where I grew up, what my educational pathway way was, what my leadership pathway has been.

So all I can say is that, in all of the conversations I’ve had with the mayor prior to my arrival and since my arrival, I can tell you the mayor is passionate about making sure that our schools are just as diverse as our city. He’s passionate about making sure that students, in the communities where they live, have great options for going to school. He has never bridled me and he has never told me not to talk about this, and he’s never told me what to talk about.

But he and I have had, like two grown men, lots of great conversations about this.

Was it already on the table when you came in, or was it something that developed after you got here?

I did my homework when I was going to come to New York City. So I had a working knowledge of what the big issues were, and given my background, we talked about it.

One of the things that I appreciate is, what the mayor hired was an educator to be the chancellor and he lets me do my job.

The proposal has been met with backlash, particularly from parents in the Asian community. Do you wish you would have done anything differently in the roll-out to announce the admissions changes?

There always is an opportunity for more input and buy in. But I think subsequent to the roll-out, where some aspects of the community have balkanized and sort of taken a stance, that wouldn’t have been any different had we done more robust engagement process up front. Since that roll-out, though — and nobody really writes about it, and that’s good — but I’ve been meeting with folks. I’ve been starting to have some really substantive conversations.

We have a very similar model for admitting students to gifted, and a similarly segregated population. Is that acceptable, and what do you think education should look like? Should we have it at all?

We probably should be really clear about what we mean about truly gifted. The student that is doing algebra in the third grade, that’s a gifted kid. But are we really talking about that when we talk about gifted and talented programs? I don’t know. I think sometimes it’s ironic where folks will say, “Oh, if you’re going to identify a student for gifted and talented it shouldn’t be just one test.” Kids are kids. It should also be teacher observation. It should be all these other multiple measures, which I think is a good idea. But then it comes to specialized high school admissions and we all say, ‘Oh, no. No, no. It’s just one test.’

But that’s largely not how it works in gifted right now. Largely, it’s just one test.

And I think that’s not a good idea. here is no body of knowledge that I know of that has pointed to the fact that you can give a test to a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old and determine if they’re gifted. Those tests — and it’s pretty clear — are more a measure of the privilege of a child’s home than true giftedness. We should really have those conversations — including, “What is gifted and talented?” If you’re going to assess for gifted and talented, how do you do that? When do you do that? And what makes sense?

When you look at the disparities in representation across this system, you have to ask the question, do we have the right way of assessing and making decisions about students?

The mayor wants to make sure every second grader is reading on grade level and has placed literacy coaches in high needs schools to help reach that goal. Some recent research shows the program hasn’t had a positive effect, but the city is adding more coaches. What will be different this year?

When it comes to universal literacy, keep in mind that it’s pretty nascent in its implementation. We’ve changed the assessments we’re going to be using because I wasn’t satisfied in the assessments we were going to be using. It didn’t give us an ability really to compare across the system or even to other systems. I can tell you that the professional development that our coaches are going to be providing to teachers and the coaching is going to be much tighter and much more aligned. For example, if you’re doing a balanced literacy approach, and kids come around a kidney table with a teacher, there are certain protocols you should follow and certain information you should be gathering that helps you then makes the decision about what the next instructional practice is. As I looked at some of the evidence, it wasn’t always clear to me that we were really clear about what that looked like.

When you’re done here, in maybe three years, how are you going to measure your own success? What do you hope to have accomplished, especially within the specific issue of segregation?

My goal is that I’m not going to be done here for another 20 years — that the results are going to be so good in three-and-a-half years that whoever is the new mayor is going to say, “Why are we going to change this?” That’s my goal. But I will tell you that whenever we’re done here, I’m going to be able to look back in three very general areas where I would like to have liked to have seen us really move the needle.

First and foremost is around curriculum and instruction — that we will have a curriculum that is tight. It’s going to be inclusive of all students — all ethnicities, all gender identification types, LGBTQ, everybody is seen in their curriculum. That we’re going to have great implementation, that we’re going to have great professional development for teachers that’s embedded. And we’re also going to have great supports around teaching in a very restorative way so that we have good systems and structures around that.

The second one is going to be around equity, that we will have moved the equity agenda in New York City so that we’re actually leading the nation. It gives me chills in a bad way every time I hear somebody reference the fact that we’re the most segregated school system in America. So I would hope to say that in the equity front, that we’ve actually dealt with our issues.

And then the third area I think is really, really important as I look back is that I want to make sure that we’ve done the work to empower parents and communities where they are. I’m not convinced, despite our best efforts, that we’ve actually met communities where they are. And we’ve not done that in people’s native languages.

Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you want us to know?

I was at a meeting this morning and then when I got done with the meeting I walked into a coffee shop. I bought a cup of coffee and as I was standing there getting ready to pay, a gentleman comes out from the back with his apron on. He comes over and shakes my hand, and he says, ‘Thank you. My kids are so proud. I tell them, look. He didn’t speak English. Look what he’s doing.’

It’s occurred to me that I get stopped on the street a lot by taxi drivers who’ll lean out of the window and say, “Keep doing it!” Construction workers, people who work in restaurants. And it feels good to me because I think maybe what I’m talking about, in the way that I’m talking about it, is not high-falutin. It’s in the people’s language. And I think that’s a good thing.

Alex Zimmerman contributed reporting. 

Face-to-face

In ‘speed dating’ exercise, Detroiters grill school board candidates about third-grade reading, charter schools

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Corletta Vaughn, a candidate for Detroit school board, speaks to Detroiters at a forum Thursday evening as Nita Redmond (center) looks on. Vaughn says the district should be open to collaboration with charter schools and suburban districts.

On its face, the public forum Thursday night was about candidates for Detroit school board. In fact, the night belonged to the citizens.

Early in the evening, a tableful of Detroiters — most of them graduates of Detroit public schools, all of them concerned about the future of Michigan’s largest school district — set about deciding what they wanted to ask the candidates during a series of Q&A sessions that CitizenDetroit, which co-sponsored the forum with Chalkbeat, called “speed-dating.”

Shirley Corley, a first-grade reading teacher who retired from the city’s main district, honed in on the state’s “read-or-flunk” law, which could force schools in Detroit to hold back many of their third graders next year if they can’t pass a state reading exam.

“I heard that one on the TV, and I couldn’t believe my ears,” she said.

As a gong sounded, she hurried to shape her outrage into a question: “What are your plans about holding back third-grade readers, and why aren’t they reading better?”

Then Terrell George, one of the candidates for two openings on the school board, sat down across the table. She asked her question.

All across a packed union hall in Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood, similar scenes were playing out. Candidates rotated between tables, where they sat face-to-face with roughly 10 Detroit residents armed with prepared questions and many lifetimes-worth of combined experience with the city’s main school district. Every five minutes, someone hit a gong, and candidates got another chance to lay out their vision for the troubled district and impress the voters who will decide their future at the polls in November.

It is Detroit’s first school board election since the board regained control of Michigan’s largest district, which was run for nearly a decade by state-appointed emergency managers. And it marks a crucial milestone in the district turnaround effort led by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, whose reforms have so far enjoyed the board’s support.

(Six of the nine candidates attended the event. Deborah Lemmons and M. Murray [the full name listed on the ballot] didn’t respond to an invitation, according to CitizenDetroit. Britney Sharp said she had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend.)

From Natalya Henderson, a 2016 graduate of Cass Technical High School, to Reverend David Murray (his legal name), a retired social worker and minister who previously served a long, sometimes controversial stint on the school board, a broad field of candidates are vying to help steer a district through a historic turnaround effort. The winners will help decide what to do about the $500 million cost for urgent school renovations and test scores that are persistently among the worst in the nation.

(Click here to watch the candidates introduce themselves in two-minute videos, and here for short bios.)

candidate statements
PHOTO: Koby Levin
Deborah Hunter-Harvill, the lone incumbent running for school board, makes an opening statement. Candidates made one-minute opening statements, then rotated through a roomful of 130 people answering questions about their plans for the district. From left: Corletta Vaughn, Shannon Smith, Natalya Henderson, Hunter-Harvill.

The low scores are the reason the state’s third-grade reading law, which calls for students reading below grade level to be held back, will disproportionately affect Detroit. But at Table 1, Corley gleaned some hope from George’s answer to her question about the law. He said more attention should be paid to early literacy instruction: “We must start from the beginning in preschool and kindergarten.”

Corley shook her finger in approval: “That’s right.”

On the other side of the table, Viola Goolsby wanted to know how George would respond if the state attempted to close the district’s lowest-performing schools.

“I would be opposed to any school shutting down any school in any district…” George began.

Then the gong sounded. “That was quick,” George said, standing up.

The table had a five-minute break — with roughly 130 people in the room, there were more tables than the six candidates who attended — and then another candidate, Corletta Vaughn, slid into the seat reserved for candidates.

Lewis EL, a realtor who works in Detroit, read a question from the list provided by Chalkbeat and CitizenDetroit, the non-profit that hosted the event: “What are the pros and cons for the district in collaborating with charters and suburban school districts?”

Vaughn’s voice fell: “I firmly believe that the district alone is without resources. We just don’t have it. So I would like to see a collaboration.” She said other districts could help Detroit train its teachers: “I think we have to do a better job in terms of exposing our teachers to better development.”

“Are they not coming with that knowledge already?” Lula Gardfrey asked.

“But I think that we can support them more,” Vaughn replied. “Our students have mental health issues. They have economic issues. Just what the teacher learned in school isn’t going to be enough when that child arrives at 8 a.m. in the morning.”

detroiters
PHOTO: Koby Levin
Shirley Corley and Lula Gardfrey work on the questions they planned to put to candidates for Detroit school board.

When the gong sounded again, Nita Redmond felt torn. She believed Vaughn had good intentions but was suspicious of any collaboration with charter schools.

The rise of charter schools, which enroll about one-third of the city’s 100,000 students, “should have never happened,” she said. “It seems like it has lowered the regular schools.” When another candidate, Shannon Smith, joined the table, Corley got to hear a different take on her question about the third-grade reading law.

“We need to communicate with parents,” Smith said. “There are a lot of parents that aren’t aware. Second, we need to work together with the administrators and the teachers on the curriculum, and figure out which curriculum would best support the students in reading.”

On the opposite side of the hall, another table asked Deborah Hunter-Harvill, the only incumbent in the race, about her plans for improving instruction in the district.

“Because nationally we’re at the bottom in reading and math, I start from the bottom,” she said. One of our policies is that parents attend parent training free to understand what their kids are being taught. All of our parents don’t come, but if you just get 40 in one classroom in one day, they go home and tell other parents.”

Theresa White had a seat right next to Hunter-Harvill, and she liked what she saw. “That has been a culprit, the lack of participation by parents,” she said.

In the next seat over, Rainelle Burton, who attended high school in Detroit and has lived in the city for decades, came to a different conclusion.

“I’m not hearing anything that says, ‘this is inventive and creative,’” she said.

The up-close-and-personal format didn’t make things easy for the candidates.

“It was definitely not comfortable,” Vaughn said, adding that she wished she’d had access to the pre-written questions beforehand.

reverend david murray
PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Reverend David Murray, who served on the school board member for 16 years during a period when the district was largely controlled by emergency managers, said those managers were responsible for the district’s decline.

But for voters in the room, the format made things easy. In a straw poll after the event, virtually everyone in attendance said they planned to vote.

“We were able to talk to them one-on-one, it’s not just looking on TV,” Nita Redmond said, adding that she came away with a good idea of who would get her vote (she declined to say who). “We were able to talk to them and evaluate ourselves if this would be the best person to lead my district.”

Surveying the room as the forum wound down, Michelle Broughton was of two minds. She carries with her four generations of experience with the district — she is a computer instructor at Renaissance High School, her father graduated from Chatsey High School, a Detroit Public School, in 1961, her children attended the district, and her grandson is in the eighth grade at McKinsey Elementary — and she said she’d heard a lot of what she called “pie-in-the-sky” ideas at the forum.

No one had offered a solution for the roughly 90 classrooms in the district that were without a teacher on the first day of school — a problem that had affected her family in the past.

“If my child goes to school every day and comes home and says, ‘Grandma, I don’t have a math teacher,’ that child is losing weeks,” she said.

But she said the event gave her a feel for the candidates — and reminded her how many Detroiters share her dream of a thriving school district.

“I’m here because I have hope,” she said. “I see a brighter future, and I hope that I pick somebody who will help.”

Future of Schools

Here’s how new federal rules could impact Indiana’s $14M private school tax credit scholarship program

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students at the Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, a private school, play during music practice. The Oaks accepts tax credit scholarships.

Some school choice advocates are uneasy that new federal tax rules could be detrimental to Indiana’s $14 million tax credit scholarship program.

In August, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released rules clarifying new tax law that limited how much state and local taxes an individuals could deduct from their federal taxes. Some fear the changes might discourage donors from contributing to charities like the state’s tax credit scholarship program, in which individuals and businesses can give money to fund students’ private school tuition in exchange for a tax credit from the state.

“Our primary concern is to make sure that the families who are relying on these scholarships, that they can continue to do so,” said Leslie Hiner, vice president of legal affairs for EdChoice, a national school choice advocacy organization based in Indianapolis. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

Jerry Stayton, superintendent of Elkhart Christian School, submitted a public comment about the regulations saying the scholarships are vital to helping private schools stay afloat and give opportunities to low-income families. The tax incentives have “encouraged giving to schools on a scale never before seen.”

“For the federal government to impose a tax on a state tax credit represents a strange and dangerous precedent,” Stayton wrote. “While the federal government is supreme in the United States, its strength is derived from strong, growing, supportive states with great local economies and excellent education.”

There’s optimism, though, that the regulations’ impact could be far more limited in Indiana than in other states,  given how established its scholarship program is, how low income taxes are here, and how many donors are individuals making smaller contributions.

“So far, Indiana is in a better position, I’d say, than some of the high-tax states,” Hiner said. “Nonetheless, that uncertainty is the thing … I have a lot of faith that people in Indiana, and I’m hoping, that any impact in Indiana because of its long history of charitable giving will not be great.”

Below, we break down how this news could impact Indiana’s school choice programs, as well as how the program works and got its start.

First, what are tax credit scholarships?

Indiana’s tax credit scholarship program, which lawmakers passed in 2009, lets taxpayers donate money to nonprofit, state-approved “scholarship granting organizations” in exchange for a 50 percent credit on their state taxes.

Those donations are then distributed to the nonprofits and given out to income-eligible Hoosier families as private school tuition scholarships. To participate, a family of four can’t make more than $92,870 per year.

In 2018-19, the program could distribute as much as $14 million in tax credits, though the amount that can be donated has no cap. Indiana’s tax credit cap has steadily increased up from $2.5 million since 2009.

While the use of vouchers far outstrips the tax credit scholarships, the program is still sizable. It serves 348 private schools across the state. In 2017, the program awarded 9,349 scholarships totaling more than $16 million.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as of 2017, 17 states had tax credit scholarship programs. The largest one in the country is in Florida, where many corporations participate and the program collects and doles out hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Is the program controversial?

Yes, though it gets far less attention than Indiana’s voucher program, where families use state tax dollars to pay for private school tuition. It also predates vouchers, which weren’t allowed in the state until 2011.

Tax credit scholarship supporters say the donations benefit students in need who otherwise could attend the school of their choice. They also argue the programs can results in savings for states, as the cost for the tax credits is lower than the cost to educate students in public schools.

Critics of the program say it’s just another version of state-subsidized private school, not unlike vouchers. They also point out it is unclear whether these programs allow states to save money — partially because data on where students go to school and how they transfer between public and private schools can be hard to track.

In Indiana, students do not need to have attended a public school before receiving a tax credit scholarship, and the scholarships can pay up to the full tuition amount at their desired school.

What’s the IRS rule change that is causing the concerns?

It comes in response to a part of the 2017 federal tax bill that limited how much state and local taxes someone could deduct from their federal taxes — up to $10,000. Hiner said federal officials proposed the change to allow the government to get more revenue. Giving fewer opportunities for deductions means the government collects more in tax dollars.

In order to get around the $10,000 cap, some high-tax states, such as New York, California, and New Jersey, took advantage of tax credit programs. As a result, the IRS proposed new rules that prohibit the tax credit workaround, and that’s what has school choice supporters up in arms.

“The IRS had a good reason for taking action, but unfortunately in taking action against those bad actors, they swept in thousands of nonprofits across the country,” Hiner said.

How will the rule change affect Indiana?

Advocates hope is that Indiana won’t take as big a hit as other states with higher taxes.

In a press release, the treasury department said most taxpayers will not be affected by the change, with about 1 percent of taxpayers seeing “an effect on tax benefits for donations to school choice tax credit programs.”

It’s really not clear yet if that will come to pass, Hiner said, because taxes won’t be filed until next year. No one can really say now how donors might change their behavior.

The state-approved nonprofit “scholarship granting organizations” that manage private tuition scholarship funds are already fielding questions from donors. Indiana has seven such organizations, six of which are currently granting scholarships.

“The one thing we’re stressing with everyone is to always contact your accountant, financial advisor, or tax preparer to walk through what the impacts could be,” said Betsy Wiley, executive director of the Institute for Quality Education, one of the state’s scholarship granting organizations.

But in Indiana, according to an analysis from CNBC, taxpayers on average don’t claim deductions over $10,000. While the rule change could impact corporations or very large individual donors, most Hoosiers don’t fall in those categories. The vast majority of donors are individuals, and 43 percent of those donations are for less than $1,000, Wiley said.

Wiley hopes the federal government decides to pause implementing these new rules until after taxes for 2018 are filed. This would give donors and nonprofits more time to understand what the effect might be so they can adjust at the state level.

Federal officials are collecting feedback through November, when there will be another hearing on the rules.