Future of Schools

24 education bills to watch as Indiana begins its 2016 legislative session

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lawmakers gathered Tuesday for Gov. Mike Pence's State of the State address.

While lawmakers are sprinting ahead with two major education bills they hope Gov. Mike Pence will sign into law this month, a total of 75 bills filed by lawmakers were assigned to House and Senate education committees by yesterday’s deadline.

That’s a lot, especially for a “short” session of the legislature, with no biennial budget to debate, in 2016.

But we’ve got the highlights below.

Two bills have quickly jumped ahead to full approval by the House or Senate: Senate Bill 200 and House Bill 1003 both aim to hold schools and teachers “harmless” for lower 2015 ISTEP scores. Both are scheduled for votes in the opposite houses next week with a goal of arriving on Pence’s desk by Jan. 19.

What will be the other big issues? Probably the next most high-profile move will be an effort to attract more teachers to the profession.

Bills were filed to start or expand mentoring programs, to increase teacher pay when they take additional education classes or take on on leadership roles and to ease licensing requirements for credentialed out-of-state teachers, among others.

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, both said they were reluctant to hear bills that come with new costs. That would require a special allocation outside of the state budget.

“I’ve been told we will not be moving bills (with new costs),” Behning said. “Education continues to be a priority, but I think we’re trying to do things this year where we’re not really getting involved as much into the minutiae of schools.”

Not all bills that are filed get a hearing. Behning, for instance said he did not plan to move a bill requiring cursive writing to be taught as part of handwriting forward for a hearing, effectively killing it. Here are some of the bills most likely to get hearings in committees:

A-F grades

  • 2015 A-F grades. Senate Bill 200, authored by Kruse, would block schools from receiving a lower 2015 A-F grade than they received in 2014. The bill passed the Senate 48-1 and is expected to pass the House later this week.
  • Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to reset the accountability clock for schools that convert to Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. Currently, schools with six consecutive years of F-grades can be taken over the state. In 2017, the timeline will be shortened to four years.


  • ISTEP rescore. House Bill 1395, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to hire an outside company to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test. If the scores change, the bill would allow the state to use the new results for calculating future student test score improvement for 2016 A-F school grades. The bill would also create a committee to review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system and see what changes could be made under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Replace ISTEP. House Bill 1114, authored by Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, would replace the state ISTEP test. The new test would include English, math, social studies and science and would likely test the same grades, Kersey said. The test would be administered by the Indiana Department of Education, not a company such as CTB/McGraw-Hill or Pearson. Behning didn’t say he wouldn’t hear the bill, but he said it was doubtful any effort “blow up” the state’s testing program would advance in his committee.

Charter schools

  • Charter school data. Senate Bill 9, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would remove the requirement that charter schools report certain information to the state, such as student enrollment, students’ names and addresses and what school a student transferred from.
  • Gary charter schools. House Bill 1115, authored by Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, would allow the mayor of Gary to authorize charter schools and create a Gary charter school board.


  • Teacher licensing. House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would allow teachers with licenses from other states to be licensed if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject areas they teach, at least a 3.0 college grade point average and have passed Indiana’s teacher license subject tests. The bill would also allow districts to give extra pay, without union permission, to teachers who take a position the district considers hard to fill.
  • Teacher career pathways. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also set out that teachers in their first two years of work who are rated “ineffective” or “improvement necessary” could still be eligible for salary raises.
  • Teacher salaries. Senate Bill 10, authored by Raatz, would allow teachers with fewer than 10 years experience to have their years worked count for more to determine their salaries. A teacher’s experience today cannot factor into more than a third of the salary calculation. The bill would allow experience to count for up to 58 percent of the calculation for those in their first decade of teaching.
  • Aspiring teachers. House Bill 1002, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would set up a system for aspiring teachers to get $7,500 per year towards four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. To be eligible, students would have to rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class.
  • Teacher bonuses and evaluation. House Bill 1003, authored by Behning, would ensure that teacher bonuses and evaluations are not negatively impacted by the transition to a new test in 2015. ISTEP scores and A-F grades may not be used in a teacher’s evaluation for that year.
  • Teacher grants. Senate Bill 328, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary,  would create grants for aspiring teachers who are studying subjects in high demand.
  • Teacher shortage. Senate Bill 379, authored by Sen. Peter Miller, R-Avon, would let teachers of special education, science, engineering, technology and math fields negotiate contracts outside and separate from the teachers union that represents them. It would also create a residency program for teachers and try to make it easier for those coming from outside the state to become licensed. Kruse said he has not decided whether to give it a hearing. The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is opposed to the bill.
  • Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would allow any teacher already teaching dual credit classes to get college credits in exchange for the number of classes they teach. For example, a teacher who teaches one dual credit course in U.S. History would be able to take one free class, or three credit hours, in that subject.
  • Teacher retention and recruitment. House Bill 1339, authored by Rep. Randy Truitt, R-Lafayette, includes some of the recommendations of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s teacher panel that met last summer. It would create a program designed to attract more teachers to the classroom and keep others from leaving the profession. The program would include mentoring and set a goal of having one National Board certified teacher in every public school classroom by 2035. Teachers who earn the rigorous credential could seek reimbursement for fees and receive an annual salary bonus of $1,000. Behning said the cost of some of the recommendations could keep it from getting a hearing.


  • Cursive writing. Senate Bill 73, by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would require every school district and accredited private school to teach cursive handwriting. Similar bills passed the Senate in recent years, but not the House. The Senate Education Committee passed this bill 6-4 today.
  • Ethnic history. Senate Bill 268, by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, would require high schools teach students the history of different racial and ethnic groups in U.S. History courses. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but was defeated in the House.
  • High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require public high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn any diploma the state offers. Currently, schools may offer whichever diplomas they choose. Some schools today do not offer a General Diploma, a less-rigorous course of study that some argue is be a better fit for some students, such as those with special needs.

Funding and administration

  • Title I funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, would require, among other things, the Indiana Department of Education, to make available to schools and districts the formula and data they use to calculate federal poverty aid. Behning said this will provide transparency around the issue, which received attention this year when the U.S. Department of Education said it would reveal how funds were allocated to charter schools, some of which reported in 2015 receiving much less than in prior years. 
  • Special education scholarship accounts. Senate Bill 397, authored by Raatz is designed to allow parents to better control where federal and state aid for students in special education is spent. A state fund would be created to hold money that parents could request be directed to their child’s school or other education service providers, such as tutors. Parents who agree to use this fund are ineligible for tax-funded vouchers.
  • Cost efficiency. House Bill 1045, authored by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Greensburg, would offer grants to help schools create cost savings, such as by establishing processes that reduce administrative work, remove duplication of services or lower building maintenance costs.
  • Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would allow school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. Kruse said a similar bill in 2007 did not pass.


  • Technical corrections. Senate Bill 3, authored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, would make some technical adjustments, following up on changes enacted by last year’s massive Senate Bill 500.
  • Various education issues. Senate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so teachers could participate in a federal loan forgiveness program for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require than any contract the state makes with a company to create ISTEP would require the return of scores to the State Board of Education no later than July 1 after the test has been given. The bill also would change the definition of “developmental delay” to cover children ages 3-9 rather than ages 3-5.

Bills that likely won’t receive a hearing:

  • Standardized tests. House Bill 1030, authored by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Depauw, would not allow the Indiana Department of Education to require students in public schools to take standardized tests on a computer. Behning said he is “inclined not to hear” this bill because the logistical problems it could create would be a  “nightmare.”
  • Health education. Senate Bill 175, authored by Leising, would require that the state health and education departments to develop academic standards and curriculum on health education. A version of this bill did not pass in 2015, and Kruse said he doesn’t want to “rehash” a discussion not likely to succeed.
  • Mandatory kindergarten. Senate Bill 199, authored by Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, would require Indiana kids who are 5 years old by Aug. 1 be enrolled in kindergarten no later the fall term of that school year. Current law doesn’t require kids start school until they are 7 years old. Kruse said he probably won’t hear the bill because “the majority of our members would not want that.”
  • Expanding preschool. Neither Behning nor Kruse expect to hear similar bills that would expand the state’s preschool pilot program to include 13 counties selected as finalists by the state, but not part of the initial pilot — Senate Bill 203, from Rogers, and House Bill 1270 from Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie. Both lawmakers said they were holding off on passing bills that could cost money and still wanted to see how the five-year pilot plays out.
  • Expelled students. Senate Bill 262, authored by Taylor, would block student expulsions unless the student is enrolled in another school, alternative school or alternative education program.
  • ISTEP delay. Senate Bill 139, authored by Leising, would require a two-year delay of ISTEP scores as factors in school A-F grades and teacher evaluations. The bill was assigned to the Rules Committee, which Leising said means it won’t move forward.


Colorado schools are getting a major bump in the state’s 2018-19 budget

Students waiting to enter their sixth-grade classroom at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

Colorado’s strong economy has opened the door for state lawmakers to send a major cash infusion to the state’s public schools.

As they finalized the recommended budget for 2018-19, the Joint Budget Committee set aside $150 million, an additional $50 million beyond what Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had asked for, to increase funding to schools.

“We believe this is the most significant reduction in what used to be called the negative factor since it was born,” said state Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

Colorado’s constitution calls for per pupil spending to increase at least by inflation every year, but the state hasn’t been able to meet that obligation since the Great Recession. The amount by which schools get shorted, officially called the budget stabilization factor, is $822 million in 2017-18. Under state law, this number isn’t supposed to get bigger from one year to the next, but in recent years, it hasn’t gotten much smaller either. 

But a booming economy coupled with more capacity in the state budget created by a historic compromise on hospital funding last year means Colorado has a lot more money to spend this year. In their March forecast, legislative economists told lawmakers they have an extra $1.3 billion to spend or save in 2018-19.

The recommended shortfall for next year is now just $672.4 million. That would bring average per-pupil spending above $8,100, compared to $7,662 this year.

Total program spending on K-12 education, after the budget stabilization factor is deducted, should be a little more than $7 billion, with the state picking up about $4.5 billion and the rest coming from local property taxes.

The budget debate this year has featured Republicans pressing for more ongoing money for transportation and Democrats resisting in the interest of spreading more money around to other needs. The positive March forecast reduced much of that tension, as a $500 million allocation for transportation allowed a compromise on roads funding in the Republican-controlled Senate. That compromise still needs the approval of the Democratic-controlled House, but suddenly a lot of things are seeming possible.

“We knew we were going to have more revenue than we’ve ever had to work with,” Hamner said of the status at the beginning of the session. But that presented its own challenges, as so many interest groups and constituencies sought to address long-standing needs.

“The fact that we’ve been able to reach such incredible compromises on transportation and K-12 funding, I think most members will be very pleased with this outcome,” Hamner said. “Where we ended up is a pretty good place.”

The big outstanding issue is proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA fund to address unfunded liabilities. A bill that is likely to see significant changes in the House is wending its way through the process. The Joint Budget Committee has set aside $225 million to deal with costs associated with that fix, which has major implications for teachers and school districts budgets.

The Joint Budget Committee has also set aside $30 million for rural schools, $10 million for programs to address teacher shortages, and $7 million for school safety grants.

The budget will be introduced in the House on Monday. Many of the school funding elements will appear in a separate school finance bill.

Going forward, there is a question about how sustainable these higher funding levels will be.

“It does put more pressure on the general fund,” Hamner said. “If we see a downturn in the economy, it’s going to be a challenge.”

outside the box

Program to bring back dropout students is one of 10 new ideas Jeffco is investing in

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Jeffco students who drop out will have another option for completing high school starting this fall, thanks to a program that is being started with money from a district “innovation fund.”

The new program would allow students, particularly those who are older and significantly behind on credits, to get district help to prepare for taking a high school equivalency test, such as the GED, while also taking college courses paid for by the district.

The idea for the program was pitched by Dave Kollar, who has worked for Jeffco Public Schools for almost 20 years, most recently as the district’s director of student engagement.

In part, Kollar’s idea is meant to give students hope and to allow them to see college as a possibility, instead of having to slowly walk back as they recover credits missing in their transcripts.

“For some kids, they look at you, and rightfully so, like ‘I’m going to be filling in holes for a year or two? This doesn’t seem realistic,’” Kollar said. “They’re kind of defeated by that. As a student, I’m constantly looking backwards at my failures. This is about giving kids something like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jeffco’s dropout rate has decreased in the last few years, like it has across the state. At 1.7 percent, the rate isn’t high, but still represents 731 students who dropped out last year.

Kollar’s was one of ten winning ideas announced earlier this month in the district’s first run at giving out mini-grants to kick-start innovative ideas. Kollar’s idea received $160,000 to get the program started and to recruit students who have dropped out and are willing to come back to school.

The other ideas that the district gave money to range from school building improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act at Fletcher Miller Special School, from new school health centers to a new district position to help work on safety in schools. One school, Stott Elementary, will create a “tinker lab” where students will have space and supplies to work on projects as part of the school’s project-based learning model.

The Jeffco school board approved $1 million for the awards earlier this year. It was an idea proposed by Superintendent Jason Glass as a way of encouraging innovation in the district. This spring process is meant as a test run. The board will decide whether to continue investing in it once they see how the projects are going later this spring.

Officials say they learned a lot already. Tom McDermott, who oversaw the process, will present findings and recommendations to the board at a meeting next month.

If the board agrees to continue the innovation fund, McDermott wants to find different ways of supporting more of the ideas that educators present, even if there aren’t dollars for all of them.

That’s because in this first process — even though educators had short notice — teachers and other Jeffco staff still completed and submitted more than 100 proposals. Of those, 51 ideas scored high enough to move to the second round of the process in which the applicants were invited to pitch their ideas to a committee made up of Jeffco educators.

“We’re extremely proud of the 10,” McDermott said, but added, “we want to be more supportive of more of the ideas.”

McDermott said he thinks another positive change might be to create tiers so that smaller requests compete with each other in one category, and larger or broader asks compete with one another in a separate category.

This year, the applicants also had a chance to request money over time, but those parts of the awards hang on the board allocating more money.

Kollar’s idea for the GED preparation program for instance, includes a request for $348,800 next year. In total, among the 10 awards already granted, an extra $601,487 would be needed to fund the projects in full over the next two years.

Awards for innovation fund. Provided by Jeffco Public Schools.

The projects are not meant to be sustained by the award in the long-term, and some are one-time asks.

Kollar said that if that second phase of money doesn’t come through for his program, it should still be able to move forward. School districts are funded per student, so by bringing more students back to the district, the program would at least get the district’s student-based budget based on however many students are enrolled.

A similar program started in Greeley this fall is funded with those dollars the state allocates to districts for each student. So far, eight students there already completed a GED certificate, and there are now 102 other students enrolled, according to a spokeswoman for the Greeley-Evans school district.

But, having Jeffco’s innovation money could help Kollar’s program provide additional services to the students, such as a case manager that can help connect students to food or housing resources if needed.

And right now Kollar is working on setting up systems to track data around how many students end up completing the program, earning a high school equivalency certificate, enrolling in a college or trade-school, or getting jobs.

Helping more students on a path toward a career is the gold standard, he said, and what makes the program innovative.

“It’s not just about if the student completes high school,” Kollar said. “It’s are we making sure we are intentionally bridging them into whatever the next pathway is?”