The 2019 legislative session has officially come to an end, and lawmakers’ attempts to address a number of education issues are receiving mixed reviews.
Funding For Teachers
Teacher pay was one of the most talked about issues this session, with teachers and school funding demanding the spotlight. But lawmakers didn’t include money in the budget specifically to boost teacher salaries statewide.
The spending plan, crafted and backed almost exclusively by Republicans, does increase funding for the state’s Teacher Appreciation Grant program by $7.5 million to offer bonuses to highly rated teachers. It also increases the amount of funding in tuition support for schools by 2.5 percent each year, but schools with declining enrollment won’t see that money.
Lawmakers did take steps to increase support for teachers by creating a pilot program for teachers to have a one-year residency in schools to learn from experienced educators before leading a classroom on their own. The General Assembly also approved a bill allowing schools to apply for grant funding designed to create more teacher career opportunities in the classroom. Gov. Eric Holcomb has already signed those two bills into law.
Teachers unions and education groups have said the residency pilot program and career advancement legislation are important steps to elevate the profession of teaching.
Another measure lawmakers have said is designed for teachers and better pay would pressure schools to send more money to educators, but not technically penalize districts for failing to do so. It will also require the state to create an annual report with a number of data points on teacher compensation across Indiana and comparisons to surrounding states. Democrats largely pushed back on the bill, saying it’s a tool to shame schools instead of effectively raising teacher salaries.
Oversight Of Virtual Schools
Virtual education also had its day in the statehouse – well, several – as lawmakers focused on a bill to better regulate virtual programs and charters. Concerns from the governor, Indiana State Board of Education and some lawmakers prompted the bill to better oversee the schools. It limits which entities can authorize virtual charter schools to statewide authorizers and boosts the requirements to better inform and engage students and families.
State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry chaired a committee last year to investigate different practices in virtual charter schools and craft a set of policy recommendations for lawmakers to consider. The General Assembly only took on a handful of those, but in a tweet following the end of session, Hendry said he was pleased by the outcome of the final bill. It gives some power to the state board to make rules overseeing virtual education programs in schools.
School Safety, Pre-K, Accountability
Another piece of legislation aiming to guide the board of education as it restructures the state’s accountability system died. But some provisions were transferred to a different bill focused on career and technical education. It prioritizes aligning the state’s education system with employers’ needs.
Indiana’s early learners had some good news from session. A bill expands the On My Way Pre-K program to qualified providers across the state and adds some eligibility requirements for students to receive those grant dollars. A national early learning research institute recently took Indiana off a list of states with state-funded preschool programs, but early learning advocates in and out of the Statehouse have called this year’s bill a step in the right direction.
School safety was another hot topic this session, including for buses. Lawmakers passed a bill to increase penalties for drivers who illegally pass school buses after three students were struck and killed by a truck as they crossed the street to board their bus last fall.
School districts will now also have the option to propose school safety referenda to their communities as a push for better funding on school safety efforts and transparency at the local level. Educators and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction have stressed the need for strong measures improving “systems of care” in schools and communities as part of increased safety efforts. Several measures focused on school safety were considered, though not all of them passed or addressed mental health and social and emotional learning.
Lawmakers failed to consider bills to address discrimination in the state’s voucher schools, and rejected changes to other bills offered by a pair of lawmakers attempting to keep state dollars out of schools that discriminate against students or staff.
Those conversations were spurred by two women being placed on administrative leave at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis after school officials learned about the employees’ respective same-sex marriages. Roncalli is a Catholic high school, but has received more than $1.5 million in state funding through the state’s choice scholarship – or voucher – program every year since 2015.
Other Changes This Session
Indiana’s current Superintendent of Public Instruction will be the last elected official to hold the position. In 2021, the governor will appoint an “education secretary” to lead the state department of education.
The state department of education will work with the Indiana High School Athletic Association to maintain a database and track coaches who have been fired for criminal misconduct in an attempt to prevent them from moving to a new district to find work.
High school government classes will now have to include the U.S. citizenship test in curriculum for students, and an “enhanced study” of the Holocaust.