Chesterton Tribune



Teachers legislative forum hears retention efforts, rips charter schools

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The Dunes Shore District Council of the Indiana State Teachers Association hosted its yearly legislative breakfast and forum Saturday, discussing topics ranging from the state’s teacher shortage, pensions, fair funding and bills that may have a detrimental effect on public schools.

This year’s forum at Portage High School saw a paltry number of just three local legislators attending -- State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and State Senators Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte. But the forum did receive a visit from Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

Plan for more teachers

Ritz briefed the audience on the Blue Ribbon Commission which she pushed for this year to bolster teacher recruitment and retention.

“It wants to have a serious conversation on the education system,” Ritz said. Made up of educators from around the state, the Commission advocates for local control of teacher pay, evaluating how teachers use student performance data, reducing the number of standardized testing, promoting teaching as an attractive professional, increasing diversity and offering more opportunities for professional development.

“The biggest place you can make a lot of change is at the local level. State testing should not be a primary measure. Period,” Ritz said.

The teacher shortage was brought up a few times throughout the forum. Valparaiso Schools Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia said there are 40 percent fewer college students going into education than there were five years ago.

Members of the state legislature have proposed multiple programs to give incentives for potential teachers, most prominently House Bill 1002 which would create the Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship. It would award $7,500 scholarships each year for up to 200 applicants.

Ritz talked about her stance on the A-F accountability grades for school, saying she’s “not a proponent” as it is “hurting kids by putting a label on the school.” Children who have a 3.5 grade point average in an “F” school are not seen the same way as students who have a 3.5 grade point average at an “A” school, she said.

Vouchers and charter schools

Ritz also expressed her disapproval of private school vouchers and urges the state to implement a moratorium on the school voucher system so that data can be gathered and studied to understand the effects vouchers have on students.

Moseley said that all children in Indiana should have equal opportunity and he takes issue with the imbalance of state funding going to vouchers and charter schools compared to traditional schools.

“Charter Schools are going to be a problem in my mind because of a lack of parity,” he said. “I don’t think education should be run like a business.”

Teresa Meredith, president of the ISTA, led discussion on charter schools saying there have been “some positive and some not so positive things about charter schools.” Charters were started with the goal of education in mind and were supported by the ISTA, but there are some schools out there now with “not much accountability,” she said.

The state a few years ago forgave $90 million of charter schools’ $120 million total debt, she said, but no loans have been forgiven for public schools. “There is tremendous imbalance,” Meredith said.

Deb Porter from the Portage Schools said the loan program for charter schools has an interest rate of 1 percent while the rate for traditional based schools is about four or five.

Frataccia said although people hear claims that if you send your children to a charter school they will do better, the reality is only one in six performs as well as traditional schools.

Contentious bills

Meanwhile, Meredith gave updates on what ISTA identifies as “eight bad bills for education” introduced in this year’s Indiana General Assembly.

One bill discussed at length is HB 1004 for school pension plans, authored by Education Committee Chair Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, which would allow school districts to give extra pay to teachers who take a position the district considers difficult to fill and without permission from the teacher’s union. It would also introduce a new 401k-style defined contribution retirement program as an alternative to the existing defined benefit pension plan.

Essentially, according to ISTA, it would leave fewer dollars to bargain with for wages for school employees and would divest from teacher retirement funds.

ISTA alleges the bill would take money out of the pockets of current teachers as the bill does not have a funding mechanism.

HB 1004 passed the house 57-42 last week and has been referred to the Senate.

Moseley said he has his suspicions about the bill as it was never brought up to his Labor and Pension Committee where he is the ranking minority member.

“This bill didn’t come from Labor. Its goal is to be a distraction, to get yourself worked up about getting a plan and how they are paying you in the future,” said Moseley who said he bets people in the audience are surprised to see a Labor issue being at an education forum. “Why are you being so nice about it? You should be getting mad.”

Some bills like HB 1311 which would expand voucher-like entitlements, HB 1325 for early retirement and Senate Bill 379 which would give a teacher the option of individually negotiating a separate contract have died.

ISTA will continue to oppose the amended SB 10 in its current form which would allow school salary bonuses to be handled in executive session and HB 1005 that would give a handful of school administrators the authority to change the salary landscape for every teacher.

Due to advocacy efforts, HB 1394 regarding the expansion of Innovation Network Schools and HB 1395 originally demanding a rescore of the 2014-15 ISTEP scores that would have cost an estimated $10 million in tax dollars have been improved, ISTA said.

Arnold bowing out

Sen. Arnold, who mentioned last week he intends to vote in support of HB 1247 -- to force the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to issue the DNR three-way liquor permits to state parks without any local input -- mentioned he will not be running for re-election this fall and is retiring after 50 years of public service.

He left the session early for another event without speaking on HB 1247.

Another view on charters

Within the boundaries of Duneland is Discovery Charter School.

The president of the school’s board of directors, Laurie Metz, later gave her points of clarification when it comes to the comparison of charter schools to traditional schools.

Metz said charter schools follow all of the same kinds of rules as traditional public schools -- teachers must be certified in all of the schools, the students take all of the same state tests, and the per-pupil funding formula is exactly the same.

“Some believe that charter schools receive more funding, which is not true. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools do not receive capital or transportation funds,” Metz said. “In Indiana, the funds follow the student, so saying that charter schools take funds away from the traditional schools is not giving the full picture. The money allotted to that student is transferring to the new school they are attending, so the school they left is not getting the funds, but they also no longer have the student.”

The loan that was forgiven by the state was a loan given to new charter schools for capital building expenditures and enabled them to acquire buildings and begin operations, Metz added.

“One of the best things about charter schools is that they foster competition and innovation, which makes all schools better,” she said. “Those involved in charters simply feel that parents should have a choice in finding a school that best fits their child.”



Posted 2/9/2016




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