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.

TESTING

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

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.

SCHOOL CHOICE

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)

SCHOOL FUNDING

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)

TEACHING

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)

SPECIAL EDUCATION

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)

MISCELLANEOUS

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)

BILLS THAT DIED

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)

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.