dead or alive?

Bills on vouchers, preschool and ISTEP live to see the second half of the Indiana 2017 legislative session.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Now that Indiana lawmakers are halfway through the 2017 legislative session, things will start to heat up.

Bills on preschoolvoucherstestingcharter schools and school funding have already led to lively debate, and that will only increase as it comes time for House representatives and senators to come to a slew of compromises in time for the projected end of session in late-April.

Below, we’ve updated the education bills we’re prioritizing this year, detailing changes that might have been introduced in amendments, as well as what ideas seem dead — for now. Unless a bill has been defeated in a vote, its ideas can resurface in other bills.

You can find what’s left of the 2017 session bill list here, and see when bills go to the other chamber and are assigned to education committees on the House and Senate committee websites.


ISTEP replacement: House Bill 1003 has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. The testing overhaul bill was amended to propose that the state make high school end-of-course exams in U.S. government and history available for districts that wanted them. (House Bill 1003)


Preschool funding: Both houses have passed separate versions. The House bill adds another voucher pathway and the Senate version includes funding for virtual learning. House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 276 will need to reconcile exactly how much money will be spent on preschool.


Taking classes outside public schools: The bill passed the House and was amended in committee to allow public school districts to deny students’ requests to enroll in outside courses if those courses are not actually required for graduation, would put a student above a full course-load of credits or are “logistically infeasible.” Read more about the proposal here. (House Bill 1007)

Charter school renewal and closure: This bill, which passed the House, would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal, as well as other changes, could have implications for Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies. The bill was amended in committee to remove language that would allow. (House Bill 1382)


Indiana’s next two-year budget: Indiana schools are projected to get an extra $273 million to support student learning under the plan, a 2.8 percent increase overall. The bill passed the House, and in the coming weeks, the Senate will offer its amendments to the bill with its own budget plan. So far, senate leaders have said they want to bring back teacher performance funding, a budget line item House legislators cut. (House Bill 1001)

Changes to school budgets: authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, and Rep. Tim Brown, R- Crawfordsville, would collapse several pools of money schools and districts use into three at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year: education, operations and debt service. Cook says the move gives schools more flexibility to control how they spend money. Learn more about how the budget proposal would work here. The bill passed 92-3. (House Bill 1009)


Advanced degrees: Senate Bill 498 makes a correction that allows advanced degrees to count for more than one year of salary increases. It passed the Senate 50-0. (Senate Bill 498)

Elementary school teacher licenses: This bill now encourages the state board of education to establish content-area-specific licenses for elementary school teachers, which must include math and science. It passed the House 88-1. (House Bill 1383).

Teacher induction program: This proposal, offered by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would create a program to support new teachers, principals and superintendents that would be considered a pilot until 2027. It passed the House 94-0. (House Bill 1449)


Developmental delay: The bill would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5 and make developmental delay an official disability category so that children who receive that diagnosis can receive special education grants. Learn more about the issue here. The bill passed 49-0. (Senate Bill 475)


Appointing the state superintendent: The House Bill passed 68-29, but the Senate bill was defeated 26-23, which throws a wrench in what comes next. Unless the House bill’s language changes substantially, Senate rules prohibit it from coming back for another vote. The House Bill, supported by Gov. Eric Holcomb, next heads to the Rules Committee, where presumably lawmakers will sort out whether it will move forward. (House Bill 1005Senate Bill 179)

High school graduation rate and student mobility: Two proposals were amended into the existing bill, One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly. Read more about the debate over the bill’s voucher language here and the student mobility proposal here. The bill passed 60-32. (House Bill 1384)

Competency-based learning: This bill would provide grants for five schools or districts that create a “competency-based” program, which means teachers allow students to move on to more difficult subject matter once they can show they have mastered previous concepts or skills, regardless of time or pace. The House bill passed 68-21. Learn more about Warren Township’s competency-based program here. (House Bill 1386)


Education savings accounts: These bills would have established a program that would allow parents more access to their child’s state education funding, known as an education savings account. The House Bill was never called in committee, and the Senate bill was withdrawn by committee chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse because of the many questions and concerns surrounding how it would work. The concept appears to be dead this year. (House Bill 1591 and Senate Bill 534)

Dual language immersion: Although this bill was not heard in committee, some of its language was moved into House Bill 1384 and funding was included for it in the House budget plan. (House Bill 1385)

Eliminating textbook fees: This bill would get rid of textbook fees for public school families. This bill was not heard in committee. (House Bill 1568)

Advanced degrees: House Bill 1081 would allow years of experience and extra education to count for a larger share of the calculation that determines a teacher’s salary raise. Similarly, House Bill 1630 suggests salary increases may be provided for master’s or doctoral degrees. These bills were not heard in committee. (House Bill 1081House Bill 1630)

Bonuses for AP and IB teachers: Authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, this bill would give yearly bonuses to teachers of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes if their students pass the associated tests. This bill was recommitted to House Ways & Means, where it died. (House Bill 1389).

Teacher tax credits: The House bill would give licensed K-12 teachers a state income tax credit, whereas the Senate version proposes the credit for K-12 private school teachers. These bills were never heard in committee. (House Bill 1638 and Senate Bill 284)

Out of school care programs: This bill would ask the state to provide grants to schools with before and after school programs for students in grades 5-8. Read more about after school program debates here. This bill was recommitted to Senate Appropriations, where it died. (Senate Bill 116)

Changes to ISTEP, A-F, vouchers: This bill makes a number of unrelated changes. It would provide a tax credit to licensed teachers; replace ISTEP with a test to be determined by the state board of education; allow any student age 5 to 22 to receive a voucher, and eliminate A-F grades, among others. This bill was never heard in committee. (House Bill 1590)

Rationale for suspensions and expulsions: This bill would prohibit a school from suspending or expelling a student unless the principal determines penalties would “substantially” reduce disruption to learning or prevent physical injury. The bill was never heard in committee. (Senate Bill 274)

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: