Six state legislators traveled to Michigan City High School from
Indianapolis this weekend to share insights with local school districts and
parents on proposed education bills currently moving through this year’s
So did a major player when it comes to Indiana Education – newly elected
State Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz.
UniservDirector for the Indiana State Teachers Association Andrew Borrelli
said the Dunes Council of ISTA has always invited the state superintendent
to come speak at its annual forum and breakfast and this year they “finally
Ritz said she is committed this year to making kindergarten mandatory and
have it be fully funded in the state’s proposed budget for the upcoming
years. Other officials in the state house have supported expanding
opportunities for pre-school children this year but Ritz said she would
advocate studies be done first this year in order to have a fully developed
plan for pre-school education in the 2014 Assembly.
Also on her chore list for this year is to make school evaluations less
stressful for educators and taking apart the A-F grading system put in place
by former State Superintendent Tony Bennett.
“It is something that needs to be revamped,” Ritz said. She said there have
been a few bills introduced that aim to reform the grading system including
Senate Bill 416 authored by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.
SB 416 would establish a new A-F grading policy with new categories based on
each student’s improvement against set criteria and not against peer group
performance. It also proposes to amend the I-Read program for K-3 by using a
growth model for each student and provide remedial action.
Charbonneau said “just about everybody is against” the current evaluation
system because it is very complicated and difficult for schools to
understand. “There is something wrong with that,” he said.
Rep. Ed Soliday said the system favors urban and growing schools rather than
stable schools like many school corporations in Northwest Indiana.
“Valparaiso Schools got a (grade of) C. And Valparaiso is not a ‘C’ school,”
Along with making changes to her predecessor’s polices, Ritz said she will
make efforts to improve communication with Hoosier parents through social
media websites and technology. She also wants to start nine research teams
in the state that will work with schools on improvement programs.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Ritz.
Also present at the forum along with Soliday and Charbonneau were House
Minority Leader and Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City; Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte;
Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte; and Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.
By far, the bill that garnered the most discussion of the morning was HB
1003 which is supported by Governor Mike Pence.
This bill would “vastly expand the current voucher program and divert
funding away from public schools,” said John O’Neil, an ISTA lobbyist. The
bill, O’Neil said, calls for further subsidizing of private education and
gives a big push for virtual charter schools to receive the same amount as
traditional charter schools.
An increase in the nonpublic school expense deduction from a $1,000 maximum
to $3,000 could result in an estimated revenue loss for public schools of
between $5.4 million to $5.9 million in 2014 and up to $6.3 million in 2015,
The voucher program, as it is currently, provides at least $4,500 a year to
students who meet the income levels for the free or reduced lunch program
and who have been in public school for at least a year.
HB 1003 would increase the maximum voucher for Grade 1-8 students from
$4,500 to $5,500 next year and to $6,000 in 2015.
Pence has also proposed dropping the “one year in public school”
requirement, O’Neil said.
Audience members voiced their opposition to the bill. All saying that it
would have a negative impact on public schools.
“This bill has to be stopped,” an educator from Lake County said.
Soliday said that it is not realistic to “stop” a bill. “That’s not the way
Some bills need to be “fixed,” Soliday continued, through legislators coming
up with compromises by “wrestling with both sides of the issue.”
Echoing what he said earlier in the statehouse, Pelath said he has asked the
Assembly to slow down legislation that would make major changes in
education. The debate now, he said, is “are we going to have public
schools?” and it is up to the legislators to “resell” the public the reasons
public education is important.
All six legislators and Ritz said, in one form or another, that they are
“proud” to have received their education from a public school.
More statements and concerns directed to the panel complained that
“politicians have demonized public schools very unfairly” and a request to
“stop the rhetoric that beats up on teachers.”
Dermody said that his party takes most of the blame but asserted that the
Republican lawmakers there Saturday are consistently working to improve
their local schools, which is evident in their authored legislation, such as
Pelath added that the debate in education is “less political than it is
cultural,” and lawmakers in the southern parts of the state have very
different views than those in Northwest Indiana.
On the subject of rating teachers, Portage Schools Superintendent Ric
Frataccia said his staff is “not afraid of accountability” but feels the
formulas that the state uses don’t treat all schools fairly.
“Carmel is not Portage,” Frataccia said.
Pelath, agreed “nobody is against accountability” and said the debate on how
public schools are performing is ruled by “outliers.”
From the audience, South Central teacher Denise Barkow, of Chesterton, said
teachers spend much of their time filling out sheets for the state to
collect data, which gets in the way of classroom time.
Ritz said has made a commitment to reduce the amount of paperwork while
Dermody said he would like to see less standardized testing and more time
should be focused on how students can be better prepared for their futures.
ISTA said that the state spends at least three times as much to pay test
companies to develop and administer tests as it spends to provide targeted
programs to help children identified as needing additional learning
The two-and-a-half-hour discussion also included topics such as school
safety, elected vs. appointed school boards, and the impact of
SB 001 proposes appropriating $10 million for schools around the state to
hire public safety resource officers as a way to prevent bullying and
violence in schools.
Soliday said he believes putting a police officer in schools will not solve
violence issues and instead suggested supporting places that improve mental
“We’ve got to deal with kids and adults who have trouble solving problems
without violence,” Soliday said.
Regarding school boards, Soliday said he intended to write a bill that would
have made the Valparaiso School board a hybrid of elected and appointed
members but said the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee would not hear
A year has gone by since the passage of Right-to-Work and teachers are still
unhappy the state has taken away their privilege of collective bargaining.
All six of the legislators present voted against the contentious
Right-to-Work bill but, as Arnold put it, “It’s the law of the land and we
have to work with that.”