So, I just filed to run for the West Lafayette School Board. (Some of you may remember my run from four years ago where I lost by a nose.) I intend to write more later about this particular race, who I am, and what I want to do. But, in case people are looking me up before I get that taken care of and want to get more insight into my thoughts on education, I figure it’s probably good to have a link to the Education category of my blog front and center: Click here for that link.
This post is for a pretty specific audience, but anyone should feel free to read and donate! I’m currently serving as the Board President for the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit with a mission to support the West Lafayette Community School Corporation.
The short version: the Foundation’s normal annual fundraiser was derailed by COVID-19 and we are having a virtual fundraiser this Thursday at 7 p.m. (You will be able to watch here). You can donate here. Several teachers will compete in games for your amusement while we ask you to donate money to support the Foundation and, by extension, the West Lafayette Schools.
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Posted by West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation on Monday, June 22, 2020
The longer version:
The West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation supports the West Lafayette Community School Corporation. Specifically this has involved things like securing funding for the backpack program which helps with food security for school families with a need; funding the teacher grant program which helps teachers acquire supplies and services for initiatives they think will help in the classroom; administering student scholarships; raising money to help with the school’s capital projects (like the James R. Guy Education Wing); and coordinating alumni outreach.
A lot of the money that comes into the Foundation is restricted — donors have given money with the stipulation that it only be used for a particular scholarship or to fund bricks and mortar, etc.. That’s great, and we welcome those donations, but the Foundation needs a certain amount of unrestricted money to fund its general operations. Normally, we have an annual dinner and an auction that serves as our primary fundraiser, but this year COVID-19 upended that plan for us like it did for so many others. So, we are trying a virtual fundraiser. The structure is like a game show with some of our teachers going head-to-head. The contestants are:
Lane Custer – WL Intermediate School PE, WL Varsity track & field coach
Jane Schott – WL High School Science, Varsity girls’ basketball coach
Randy Studt – WL High School German/Educator of the Year!
Morgan Asay – WL Intermediate School Art
Alivia Brooks – WL High School Assistant Band Director
Rick Roseman – WL Elementary PE teacher, WL Varsity Wrestling Coach & Football Defensive Coordinator
We have lined up some matching funds for donations, hence the name “Double Your Dollars.”
You can watch here beginning at 7:00 p.m. until approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 25: https://www.doubleyourdollars.live/episodes-2020-wlsef
You can donate here: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/west-lafayette-schools-eductionfoundation-inc/double-your-dollars-live-2020. I believe you can also donate by texting REDDEVILPRIDE to 44-321. Early donations or donations during the event are both welcome.
And, a final pitch to separate you, dear reader, from your money for a good cause. I’m not a tax professional — so check with one of your choice — but the CARES Act passed by Congress in response to COVID-19 made donations more attractive from a tax perspective. The 2017 tax legislation made it so that most people take the standard deduction rather than itemizing. The new CARES Act legislation lets you take an “above the line” deduction of $300 (or $600 for married, filing jointly) for charitable donations.
So, particularly if you live in West Lafayette, please watch & please donate.
Sen. Ruckleshaus has introduced SB 390 which would provide some additional degree of oversight and accountability for charter schools. In the wake of recent events, there certainly seems to be some cause for this sort of initiative. Whether it’s sufficient, I couldn’t say. The bill requires two members of the charter’s board to live within the boundaries of the school district in which the charter is located and requires at least 50% of its meetings to take place within those boundaries. The bill requires an annual audit of all public and private funds by the school and the charter school organizer (notwithstanding the rule that says an entity receiving less than 50% or less than $200k in public money will only be audited with respect to matters relevant to the public money received). A charter school organizer would be considered a public agency for purposes of the Access to Public Records Act.
Additionally, the charter school and charter school organizer would be required to post online a copy of the audit, the school’s most recent enrollment count, and a list of the salaries of each individual employed by the organizer. It also creates an enforcement mechanism whereby the Department of Education can issue findings with respect to waste, fraud, abuse, or misrepresentations made by the school or its organizer along with recommendations to the State Board of Education to penalize the charter or revoke its authorization. The bill also provides for creation of a study committee to study the need for additional charters and potentially a moratorium.
If charters are going to work, they require pretty strict oversight. Massachusetts has had some success by, among other things, prohibiting for-profit Education Management Organizations, allowing only the State Board of Education to authorize schools, and imposing rigorous authorization and re-authorization standards. Indiana’s regime is much looser. This would tighten it up somewhat.
Senator Zay has introduced SB 328 which generally tries to promote the instruction of students in “personal financial responsibility.” It creates a grant fund to pay entities to implement teacher professional development programs to teach them how to conduct financial responsibility instruction. The State Board of Education is directed to create guidelines for the grants which include providing evidence-based training to a teacher who has no background in the area. It also directs the State Board to enter into a contract before September 30 “with an organization that provides a nationally recognized training program for professional development in personal financial responsibility education from early learning through secondary education.” Based on this, I strongly suspect such an organization exists, and I would be a little surprised if that organization is not the moving force behind this legislation. (But it could also just be part of a general “personal responsibility” ethos.) A teacher who completes such training would be eligible for supplemental compensation from a school district.
The Department of Education is given some discretion in determining the content of the training, but the legislation requires that it be effective in teaching “personal financial responsibility, entrepreneurship, and economic systems with an emphasis on free market economic systems.” The legislation is frustratingly vague with respect to what it means by “personal financial responsibility.” This American Prospect article discusses the nationwide popularity of “financial literacy” programs and the sketchy foundations on which they rest. Law professor Lauren Willis has emerged as a leading critic of financial literacy education:
She’s since emerged as a leading critic of financial literacy education, which she says is pushed by large financial interests that fight commonsense reforms to help consumers make safer choices. “We don’t ask consumers to fix their own cars,” she says. “People aren’t dumb, they’re just busy, and we should regulate around those things, with the assumption that there are certain things a consumer can do and other things they can’t, and that it would be silly to ask them to do.”
Willis also notes that there’s nothing about financial education that’s designed to teach students how to challenge the economic system. For example, it does not involve teaching people how to organize unions and collectively bargain for defined-benefit retirement plans—even though we know pensions have helped millions lead more financially secure lives. “Financial literacy education sends the message to people that if they’re in financial trouble, then they must have failed to make the right decisions,” she says. “It’s not designed to say, ‘Hey, society is not organized in a way that gives everyone equal opportunity and we want to teach you the skills to challenge that.’”
(SB 328’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and free market economic systems is a give away as to the preferred bias here.) The cost of such education does not seem to be justified by its benefits. John Lynch, director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Research on Consumer Financial Decision Making: “The cause of financial literacy education is so good, and it sounds so plausible, but to me that’s like saying obesity is a major problem so let’s give billions of dollars to some particular fad diet,” Lynch says. “It’s an utter waste of time to be teaching this stuff, the effect sizes are trivial in magnitude.”
I’ve suggested before, and have not been dissuaded that this would be useful, that the State should come up with a model household budget for various levels of income:
This plays somewhat on an idea I’ve had for awhile – that it would be useful for the State to provide a model budget for its citizens based on various income levels. My initial impulse for this was that a lot of citizens are bad with money, and there are often complaints that poor people have enough to live on, but they’re making poor spending choices (e.g. cable, cell phones, tattoos, cigarettes). Perhaps a model budget would help — one for poverty level, one for median income, and maybe model budgets for other income levels. On the other hand, it would be a little uncomfortable if that model budget for median income revealed that the middle class simply could not afford the things we normally associated with “middle class.”
That’s the type of financial literacy I could get behind. But, if financial literacy education is just going to be a talking point that policymakers use when they’re accused of ignoring structural problems with the economy, then it’s probably not worth the effort. This reminds me of the popularity of the “skills gap” myth. There is a deep desire to regard the economy as a morality play where poverty is evidence of sloth and wealth is evidence of moral probity which allows us to complacently let the rich stay rich and absolves us of any duty to the poor. (But, I’m probably getting ahead of myself here — loading up SB 328 with freight that might well not be intended by Sen. Zay.)
Sen. Spartz has introduced SB 261 entitled “school deregulation” which makes discretionary a number of mandatory training provisions imposed on schools and teachers by the State. In particular:
- 1. Recurrent training on alternatives to restraint and seclusion.
- 2. Bullying prevention training.
- 3. Criminal awareness programs and school employee training.
- 4. Training on child abuse and neglect.
- 5. Suicide awareness and prevention training.
- 6. Human trafficking identification and reporting.
- 7. Seizure recognition and response training.
None of these are bad things. They all seem very valuable. None are frivolous. However, this sort of thing adds up. Schools have only so many resources and teachers have only so many hours in the day. Decisions about education policy are usually best the closer they get to the classroom. This legislation would allow local schools to decide what type of training is necessary, beneficial, and within their means.
Rep. Davisson has introduced HB 1126 mandating training of school board members. It requires the Department of Education to develop or compile a school board training course in conjunction with the Department of Local Government Finance and the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board (IEERB). The course is required to cover legal and financial issues that affect schools, personnel issues including teacher licensing and collective bargaining, student discipline issues, “how to access academic and financial information related to school corporations that is maintained by the department,” and sources of funding available to school corporations.
I will not dispute that new school board members could use training on these issues. When I joined our local school board, my background made me a bit of a freak – legislative junkie & legal adviser to municipal government. But even with that background I had some pretty significant blind spots – I had no idea that IEERB was even a thing. As a practical matter, my primary concern is what this training will look like and what sorts of biases will be built in. My experience with state government is that usually the front line people who would compile this sort of training aren’t going to get ideological. If anything, they’ll err on the side of quoting Indiana Code cites and the like without providing the kind of simplified narrative that – while helpful to understanding – also lends itself to more editorializing. But, education policy has been so hotly contested over the last 10 – 20 years that I’m reflexively skeptical of just about any education proposal. This one might be o.k.
As a legal matter, I think this legislation does have a significant omission: it does not say what happens to the school board members if they don’t complete the training. It doesn’t say whether they’re off the board, whether they’re unable to vote, whether measures that pass with their vote are void, or what the consequence of not taking the training might be. This was an occasional source of frustration when I was drafting legislation – sometimes it was tough to get policymakers to commit to an enforcement mechanism.
Sen. Alting has introduced SB 235 which redirects sports wagering revenue from the general fund to a teacher salary increase grant fund. To be eligible for a grant, a school corporation has to provide verification that it has raised full-time teacher salaries by at least 2% in the upcoming contract year at the time the school is applying for the grant. Grant money can be used only for the purpose of funding increases in the salaries to full-time classroom teachers. According to the fiscal note, the revenue from sports wagering is anticipated to be $11.5 million for fiscal year 2021. The Department of Education would be responsible for administering the grant program and setting rules about the amounts awarded and the criteria for grant applicants.
Sen. Zay has introduced SB 143 which would alter the composition of the State Board of Education. Currently, it is composed of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, eight members appointed by the governor, one appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, and one appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Three of the Governor appointees have to be at least nominally from another party. With the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction position being replaced by the Governor-appointed Secretary of Education position beginning in January 2021, that’s a lot of marbles in one basket.
SB 143 would give the Governor two appointees (plus the Secretary of Education). The Speaker of the House would get three, the President pro tempore would get three, and the minority leaders of the House and Senate would each get one. Under current law, six of the Governor’s eight appointees are required to have “professional experience in the field of education.” Under SB 143, six of the appointees would still be required to have professional experience in the field of education but the legislation does not specify how that requirement is to be coordinated among the appointing authorities. Also, the meaning “professional experience in the field of education” has been tweaked. The current definition says that means teacher, principal, superintendent, or assistant superintendent. The new law would add “an executive in the field of education.” I don’t known what that’s supposed to mean, but to my jaded eyes that screams “testing company executive” or “owner of a charter school management company.”
Diversifying the appointing authority for the State Board of Education makes sense. I don’t have strong feelings at the moment as to what might constitute the proper balance. As citizens, we should all be aware that the State has pretty thoroughly taken over education in Indiana and, with the Superintendent of Public Instruction set to no longer be an independently elected position, the power to set education policy will sit pretty firmly in the Governor’s office. Education represents something like 50% of the State’s budget. I don’t think it’s overstepping to suggest that a citizen’s vote for Governor or the General Assembly should mostly rise and fall on education policy.
Rep. Cook has introduced HB 1002 which gets rid of the requirement that “objective measures of student achievement and growth” as a required component of teacher evaluations. This is similar to the subject matter of SB 59 which I mentioned a few days ago which would limit such “objective measures” to 5% of a teacher’s evaluation. I keep putting the “objective measures” in scare quotes because we’re not entirely sure what they are measuring. On top of that, the problem with using them as part of a teacher’s evaluation is that there are too many confounding variables. It’s very difficult to trust that higher or lower student test scores are a function of any given teacher’s performance. For example, such scores track very closely with household income.
Sen. Kruse is engaged in a bit of culture war nonsense with SB 131 which mandates that each school classroom and library display a framed picture or durable poster with “In God We Trust” and the U.S. and Indiana flags. The poster has to be 11″ x 17″, the “In God We Trust” has to be at least 4″ x 15″ and the flags each have to be at least 5″ x 5″. No funds are appropriated for this expense.
This is bush league stuff. We’ve got real problems.