This Week At The Statehouse: Appointed Superintendent Discussion

Feb 10, 2017

This week, legislators discussed many education bills, including one that would make state superintendent an appointed position and options for replacing the ISTEP. Here are the highlights:

Senate: Appointing The State Superintendent

The bill to make the Superintendent of Public Instruction a political appointment moved out of committee this week. Author Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) would allow the governor to appoint the superintendent of public instruction, starting in 2021.

Democratic senators and the Indiana State Teachers Association object. They say it is bad public policy to take that decision out of the hands of voters and to give the governor more power over education.

Senate: School Year Start Time Moves Out of Committee

SB 88 would mandate all school districts start the school year on Sept. 1. It passed out of committee and now goes to the full Senate for discussion. Some senators expressed concerns but voted to pass it out of committee because they want their colleagues to weigh in. Read more about this bill in last week’s round up.

House Pre-K Bill Moves Forward As McCormick, Others Want Changes

House Bill 1004 calls for doubling the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to 10 participating counties. This is the pilot program that provides state-funded preschool for 4-year olds in low-income families.

The bill passed 61-34 in the full House but lawmakers from both parties say a provision in the bill to include those same children in the state’s private school voucher program should become separate legislation.

Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City) voted for the law that created Indiana’s Choice Scholarship program wants the two issues in separate bills. Another Republican, Rep. Wendy McNamara of Evansville, also voted yes but said she would vote against the bill if it it returns from the Senate without the voucher link removed. Read more about that discussion.

Lawmakers Say Bill Would Update State’s “Dinosaur”-Style Ed System

House Bill 1007 seeks to allow more type of course providers to sell curriculum to public schools – from state colleges to for-profit virtual schools. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero), says this will help rural schools that are unable to offer a wide-range of classes for students or other districts that face a teacher shortage. The Department of Education would be tasked with overseeing quality of the course providers and negotiating fees – estimated at $200 to $600 per course.

But some lawmakers and current course providers criticized the proposal.

Michele Eaton, the virtual education specialist for Wayne Township Schools’ Achieve Virtual, says her program requires three staff members just to oversee course content. Eaton estimated that the DOE would need a significant staff and funding to oversee new content providers offering many courses.

Eaton says Achieve Virtual was able to open and offer course to students from multiple school districts without any change to current law.

Eaton says she was not against the bill but warned lawmakers that for-profit providers could care more about making money than ensuring students are learning.

Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) and other Republican lawmakers rejected the concerns. Lucas labels Indiana’s school system a “dinosaur,” and called  for a more modern outlook.

The legislation will return to the Education Committee next week for a vote.

Despite Objections ISTEP Replacement Bill Passes Committee

The future of Indiana’s student testing system remained a battle Thursday, yet legislation to design a new statewide assessment inched closer to approval.

House Bill 1003 sets basic guidelines for the State Board of Education to design or purchase an ISTEP replacement for 2019. The bill passed out of the House Education committee but not without attempts to drastically change it.

An amendment by Indianapolis Democrat Ed DeLaney sought to stop students from taking the ISTEP.

Despite concerns about its effectiveness, state education officials and lawmakers agree that the ISTEP will be used as the assessment for Spring 2017 and Spring 2018.