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.
Sen. Taylor has introduced SB 88 attempting to address conflicts of interest by charter school organizers. The issue is with these ostensibly public schools directing public money to themselves or their relatives. There is not a lot of transparency or oversight with these operations — we saw that with the Indiana Virtual School charter where little Daleville was theoretically providing oversight. One potential issue is self-dealing by charter schools — where they can do things like lease property from subsidiaries of the charter school operators. Karen Francisco outlined what the shell game can look like in Indiana.
SB 88 would prohibit a charter school organizer from entering into a contract with any person from which an officer or employee (or relative of an officer or employee) will receive compensation. It creates an exemption for contracts valued at under $1,000. This is certainly a start, but I’m not sure it goes far enough. For example, I’m not sure it covers the situation where the self-dealing arrangement goes three or four companies deep — e.g. the organizer rents at higher than market price from a nominally independent third party who then enters into an inflated maintenance contract with the organizer’s son.
Incidentally, this also helps illustrate why the Presidential candidates who try to distinguish between supporting for-profit and not-for-profit charter schools are offering an unhelpful distinction. I’m no happier if public schools receive less money and the public money goes through a non-profit charter school to a for-profit company owned by the charter school operator’s daughter.
Sen. Leising has introduced SB 58 which appears to be a reaction to the revelation that last year’s ILEARN test did not produce reliable metrics. Under this legislation, a school’s performance rating for 2018-2019 can’t be any lower than 2017-2018, “additional consequences” for school improvement may not be applied for the 2018-2019 school year, and ILEARN scores can’t be used for a teacher’s performance evaluation. “Additional consequences” has to do with provisions under IC 20-31-9 providing for escalating consequences for each year that a school is in the lowest performance category (e.g. state takeover or closure in the 4th year.) Note: I’m going off the digest with for the proposition that the “additional consequences” are paused. I can’t quite parse the language of the bill to reach the conclusion that the clock stops running for the 2018-2019 school year – my reading suggests that the 2017-2018 performance will be substituted unless the school wants the 2018-2019 performance to be applied. But the language is pretty dense, so I might be misreading something.
Sen. Leising has also introduced SB 59 which provides that ILEARN scores (and other “objective measures of student achievement and growth”) may not account for more than 5% of a teacher’s total performance evaluation. I should be a little tempered in my critique here – it’s an improvement on the status quo. That said, I would strongly argue that ILEARN is not an objective measure of student achievement or growth. Fact is, we don’t know what the hell it is measuring. Its metrics – which, lest we forget, cost the State $40 million – are unreliable. ILEARN suggests that West Lafayette, the 20th best STEM school in the nation, has 40% of its students lacking proficiency in math or English. If the test missed that badly in West Lafayette, it can’t be trusted in other schools either. Using this test as even 5% of a teacher’s evaluation is too much. Furthermore, even if we had a standardized test that was a reliable measure of student growth and achievement, using them as a measure of teacher performance is problematic since there are too many confounding variables for us to mistake correlation for causation. Usually those test results end up being pretty well correlated with a student’s socioeconomic status.
Not a bad start, but seems like there is room for improvement here. I’m an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to education law – I’d love to see the opinions of people who know the ins and outs of this stuff.
SB 30, introduced by Sen. Randolph, would expand the tax credit for teachers for purchase of classroom supplies from $100 to $500. The related fiscal note estimates that this would decrease State tax revenues by between $5.9 million and $15.5 million annually. If I understand the note correctly, the lower bound is the amount claimed by teachers under a similar federal provision that’s capped at $250. It’s assuming that the $250 cap more or less lets teachers claim everything they’re spending. The upper bound of $15.5 million basically assumes that the teachers currently claiming $250 have enough expenses left over that they could max out a $500 credit as well.
I’m generally of the opinion that teachers shouldn’t have to pay for classroom materials out of pocket. So an increase in the credit sounds like a good idea. And, if we then learn that teachers are subsidizing our education system to the tune of $15.5 million per year, we should raise the credit again.
West Lafayette Community School Corporation has sued Governor Holcomb in his official capacity (Cause 79C01-1909-PL-115 in the Circuit Court of Tippecanoe County) to challenge a law that requires local school corporations to make unused buildings available to charter schools for a dollar before they can sell them, leave them vacant, or (the law is less clear) lease them for non-school purposes. West Lafayette has an old building, Happy Hollow, that’s on its last legs and the school corporation has long term plans to use the site, likely as an early education facility, once it gets a solid model put together and can line up the proper funding. In the meantime, it’s being leased to the City of West Lafayette as a temporary city hall for which the City is paying the School a healthy lease payment which, in turn, is being used to fund School operations.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed HB 1641 which added IC 20-26-7.1 featuring the $1 lease/purchase requirements. (If a school sells real estate in violation of this requirement, proceeds from the sale go to the State to fund charter school grants). In the case of Happy Hollow, the school corporation arguably has to forego a revenue stream from the City lease or put long term plans on hold if a charter school expresses interest and an intent to get a charter school up and running in the next two years.
So that’s the background. Being a strong proponent of local government and of public schools, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I take the school’s side on this one. But that’s not what prompted me to write this.
In defending the lawsuit, Governor Holcomb (by counsel) has made the breathtaking argument:
“[T]he Takings Clauses and Just Compensation do not apply to the State’s relationship with political subdivisions.”
“[M]unicipalities and subdivisions of the State cannot request just compensation even if there is taking[.]”
The State’s argument does not offer any limitation to this principle which is unique to schools. The State can take local government property and not pay for it. Full stop. The argument is that local government is merely a “subalternate instrumentality” of the State government — in other words, local government is just a tool of State government, so there’s really been no loss if the State commandeers local property for its own purposes.
There is an old United States Supreme Court case, Board of Commissioners of Tippecanoe County v. Lucas, 93 U.S. 108 (1876) where the Court said, “the legislature of a state possesses the power to direct a restitution to taxpayers of a county or other municipal corporation of property exacted from them by taxation, into whatever form the property may be changed, so long as it remains in possession of the municipality.” (emphasis added) It’s true that the State has a lot of power to direct the affairs of local government. So, if the State said that the school had to sell vacant property at market value and, for example, use the proceeds to buy school buses for itself, the “taking” argument would be much weaker. Yes, the State is meddling in local affairs, but taxes paid by local residents are not being diverted to other entities.
But that’s not the argument the Governor is making. Local government property can be used for any purpose the State wants. It doesn’t matter if taxpayers supported a local tax rate precisely because decisions about the use of those taxes were being made by the city council or school board. This goes well beyond taking local school property to subsidize charters. In principle, it could be used to sell off the Wayne County Courthouse in Richmond and use it to subsidize toll road operations in northern Indiana. Or whatever. Like I said, the argument doesn’t offer any limiting principle to the State’s authority to seize local government property without paying for it.
Now, if I had to guess, this is probably the case of an attorney operating out of Indianapolis trying to grind out a win without having run the argument past any political types. I highly doubt that Gov. Holcomb knows anything about this argument even though it’s being made in his name. I suspect the political types would understand that an assertion by the State of unfettered control over local resources is unlikely to be well received outside of the State House.
I made a Facebook post that seemed like it would be reasonable to turn into a blog post, so here we go. Chalkbeat has an article about Elizabeth Warren’s meeting with charter school activists. Per the article:
Warren’s education plan, which she released last month, proposes limiting charter schools in a number of ways. It promises to ban for-profit charter schools and eliminate federal funding for new charters. Warren’s plan also seeks to limit who could authorize charters — the kind of change that could threaten existing schools, though one that it’s unclear whether a president could pull off.
This prompted push back from charter activists. Warren promised to go back and look at her plan to make sure that charter schools are on an even playing field with traditional public schools. Charter schools like to claim that they are on an even playing field — maybe it’s even tougher for them. Traditional public school advocates strongly disagree. My thoughts in that Facebook post I mentioned:
1) The profit/non-profit distinction for charters favored by some candidates (not sure about Warren) doesn’t mean a lot unless we have some clarity on whether the management companies hired by the charters are themselves for-profit or not; and
2) There seems to be some evidence that charters can produce positive outcomes under the sorts of tight regulation Massachusetts has. Indiana is absolutely not going to impose that kind of close regulation and I’m guessing the charter advocates aren’t going to be supportive of that sort of regulation going nationwide.
“It appears that Massachusetts’ charter laws are responsible, at least in large part, for the superior performance of the state’s charter schools. Indeed, Massachusetts prohibits for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs), and its process for authorizing charter schools is particularly rigorous. According to Alison Bagg, director of charter schools and school redesign at the Massachusetts Department of Education, Massachusetts is one of the few states in which the Department of Education serves as the sole authorizer of charter schools. “You have some states that have hundreds and hundreds of charters schools, all authorized by these districts or non-profits,” Bagg explained to the HPR. In Massachusetts, by contrast, “it has been historically very difficult to get a charter,” and the state has been recognized by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers as “one of the leaders in charter school authorizing nationwide.”
The charter renewal process is also quite rigorous, according to Bagg. The state monitors charter schools closely and has the ability to close charter schools that have achieved poor results—a practice that is not universal across states.”
In Indiana, by contrast, we get a school corporation like Daleville sponsoring the Indiana Virtual School charter which then takes state money for kids who are dead or have long since moved out of state.
Five years after two students moved to Florida, they reappeared on enrollment records for Indiana Virtual School and its sister school.
And nearly every one of the more than 900 students kicked out of Indiana Virtual School and its sister school in the 2017-18 school year for being inactive were re-enrolled the next school year, included in per-pupil funding calculations that netted the two online schools more than $34 million in public dollars last year.
These were among the ways that Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy allegedly inflated their enrollment to at least twice its actual size, according to the findings of a state examiner’s investigation[.]
Under Indiana’s charter system, Daleville was allowed to receive 3% of the state tuition dollars directed to the charter schools it authorized. In the case of IVS and IVPA, that amounted to $1 million. It’s not clear that a whole lot of oversight was being done.
The recent $40 million failure of the ILEARN test has prompted the “Red for Ed” rally scheduled for November 19, 2019 at the State House when the General Assembly gathers for its annual organization day. Among other things, the movement is asking for schools and teachers to be “held harmless” from the consequences that the legislature has tied to such testing. That would include not penalizing schools for performance on this test, stopping the clock on the time given to “failing schools” to improve (since this testing year was essentially wasted), and not penalizing teachers based on data generated by this test.
It is also a good time to revisit our overall approach to education policy in Indiana. What we have now isn’t really a “system” per se in that its component parts don’t work well together. Rather than our current ideologically driven approach based on what policymakers think ought to work, we should evaluate the systems and curricula that actually are working in places like Singapore, Canada, Finland, and Japan and adapt their approaches as best we can to Indiana. Ultimately, a good educational system will have to be built on the quality of its teachers. That means attracting the best and the brightest high school students to the teaching colleges. It means preparing those incoming teachers to teach the curriculum which, in turn, requires a stable approach to education. And, once trained, it means retaining those teachers.
There has been some criticism of the Red for Ed rally and its goals by school privatization enthusiasts. But it has mostly been hand waving. Shane Phipps, writing at Inside Education does a pretty good job of addressing some of these criticisms.
At root, there is a lack of appreciation as to what a world-class educational system provides and possibly a lack of ambition by policymakers. Can we afford one? We can’t afford not to have one. Opportunity is slipping away from Hoosiers because we’re allowing our foundation to erode. The high stakes testing and privatization approach that have been in place for the better part of a generation have put us in a downward spiral. Teachers have been scapegoats and their salaries have remained mostly stagnant as their burdens have grown.
When it comes to education, we are too often shrewd with our pennies but foolish with our dollars. This is an investment. As Caleb Mills, the father of Indiana’s common school system observed in the 19th century, a good education system adds to the social, literary, and intellectual capital of the citizens and adds materially to the real and substantial happiness of everyone. Mills said that we must “convince the ignorant man that knowledge would increase his happiness and satisfy the prejudiced man that he has only misapprehended the best means of securing his own welfare.” In 1848, a referendum was put to the people of the State, asking “are you in favor of free schools?” The result was narrowly in favor, but it was significant that the opposition came chiefly from the areas with the highest level of illiteracy. The people with better educations recognized the tremendous opportunity provided by public education.
There is a charitable, moral argument for paying to educate your neighbors. But, even on the level of simple self-interest, we have an interest in the proper education of all who are socially and politically connected to us. Better schools lead to (as Mills pointed out) “more valuable real estate, productive capital, lightened public burdens, increased social enjoyments, and security of possession.” Investment in education pays further dividends in reduced expenses from crime and costs of punishment. What’s more, for most areas, the school serves as the nucleus of the social fabric. It’s an important part of what turns a collection of individuals into a community.
Mills again: “There is but one way to secure good schools, and that is to pay for them.” How much should we pay for them? As much as they are worth. Taxes are absolutely part of the equation. This will require some courage from legislators as taxes inevitably cause initial dissatisfaction. Per Mills, “a legislature that would wait for a harmony of views before action would never affect anything great and noble.” As with any investment, benefits come later. Politicians who crow about surplus funds and low taxes while we are unable to attract and retain teachers should receive the same reception as a homeowner who brags about a shiny new car and a healthy bank account while the foundations of his home are crumbling. The State has taken over the business of funding schools. Locals lack the power to move the needle very much. If we want good schools, we will have to persuade the legislators we have or get new ones. Because the State made the decision to swallow the elephant of public education, it now represents about half of the state budget. As such, there is a strong argument to be made that education should be a central focus of every legislator and that the General Assembly should be judged based on the resulting quality of Indiana schools. In 2021, as the Governor takes total control of the State’s education system (by virtue of the Superintendent of Public Instruction becoming an appointed position), a gubernatorial candidate’s education bona fides should be one of the electorate’s primary concerns.
Ultimately, we need to produce the best teachers at our institutes of higher learning and pay teachers commensurate to their training and value. We are entrusting them to instill in our children the capacity to be productive citizens. What’s that worth? To attract and retain teachers of the highest caliber, we need to recognize what society gains by attracting the best and the brightest to the profession. Mills describes the situation in the 1840s: “What inducement had a youth of commanding talents, noble and generous aspirations, to spend years of time and hundreds of dollars [19th century money] to fit himself for an employment that would not command a higher compensation than was given for services requiring no intellectual training or moral culture?” The young men you would have wanted as teachers chose instead to become preachers and lawyers. History may not repeat, but it certainly seems to rhyme.
The privatization fad isn’t working. Voucher and charter schools do not produce better results than traditional public schools and there is some evidence that they produce worse outcomes. A fractured approach to education cannot produce consistent results. If we’re looking to be responsible with our money, we can’t afford to have education dollars sucked up by self-dealing charter management companies with opaque accounting or vouchers sent to private institutions with books closed to the public. We can’t spend tens of millions of dollars on tests with arbitrary faulty metrics. The reason we’re having so much trouble with the tests and vouchers and charters is because the arguments for them were always pretexts. The tests weren’t designed to provide feedback to improve education — they are designed as cudgels for proclaiming that public schools are failing (and to redirect public money to testing companies.) Vouchers weren’t designed to give poor children attending public schools a way out — they were designed to subsidize religious education and give “good families” a way to keep their kids away from undesirables. If we were serious about our approach to charter schools, we’d consider the rigorous accountability process used in Massachusetts. But, we’re not, so we get charters authorized by tiny Daleville and overseen by apparently nobody.
If the concern was truly that Indiana’s traditional public schools were not performing as well as they should, the rational approach would be to look to those school systems in our country and around the world that are producing the desired outcomes. That’s not what we did because those systems would not have provided a rationale for subsidizing private, religious education; reducing the influence of teacher’s unions; or redirecting public education money to friends and well-wishers of privatization enthusiasts. So, they had to come up with this cobbled together mess of half-measures and contradictions they could market to the public with rhetoric about “choice,” “accountability,” “empowerment,” and “the market.” When the results fail to materialize they either ignore the results or just say we have to do it harder. Privatization can’t fail, it can only be failed.
We have been some place like this before. Prior to creation of common schools, Indiana’s commitment to public education was more aspirational than real. The qualifications of teachers were left to local trustees. The quality of education was wildly uneven. There was a powerful disincentive for educated Hoosiers to become teachers. At a time other institutions were becoming well organized and efficient, the schools were struggling with unequal lengths of term, incapable teachers, dishonest trustees, diversity of textbooks, lax enforcement of school laws and school discipline, neighborhood quarrels over school sites, narrow views of education, and a lack of wise leadership. (Worley at p.6) This description reminded me powerfully of our recent charter school debacle at the Indiana Virtual School.
We pulled ourselves off the educational floor once. So did Finland and Singapore and Ontario and any number of places that now surpass us in educational outcomes. We can do it again. But we have to look to examples that work and craft a system with pieces that fit together, one enhancing the other. A Hobbesian war of all-against-all, even if marketed under the banner of “choice,” will inevitably result in a cacophony of cross-purposes. We need to rethink our policies.
—One of the People