Friday, March 20, 2015

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #210 – March 19, 2015

Dear Friends,

This one needs your close attention:

The State Board of Education wants more power, including a power they have never had before: the power to take over an entire school district.

They also want school takeovers to come quicker, in four years rather than the current six years, a proposal that the General Assembly has rejected three times (2009, 2012 and 2013). This bill has gone further than the previous efforts.

These are key provisions of Representative Behning’s House Bill 1638, which was given a public hearing yesterday (March 18th) in the Senate Education Committee. In a meeting that started at 1:30pm, the hearing on HB 1638 started at 4:15 and lasted until 7:15.

I was unable to attend the hearing on HB 1638 when it was in the House, and it was not until yesterday’s hearing that I realized that language in the bill would allow State Board takeovers of a complete school corporation. This deserves the attention of every local school district in Indiana and every advocate for local control of our schools.

You have until the Senate Education Committee votes on HB 1638 on Wednesday, March 25th, to let the Senators on the committee know that the State Board in its current condition should not be entrusted with new powers, let alone the unprecedented step to empower them to take over an entire school corporation.

The Power to Take Over School Corporations

The 1999 accountability law, Public Law 221, was based on a school-level reform movement. School improvement plans in the original draft bill went from the school directly to approval by the local school board. Superintendents had to scramble in the 1999 legislative process to insert any voice into the school’s plan.

When Dr. Bennett convinced the State Board to change category labels to A-F letter grades, he included letter grades for school districts, but the State Board had power to intervene only at the school level. In his 2012 campaign for reelection, Dr. Bennett made State Board power to take over school corporations one of his major policy positions.

I always thought that was one of the reasons he lost decisively. The prospect of a state takeover of local school districts was an extremely unpopular thought in 2012, and I believe it still is.

House Bill 1638: What Does It Say?

Tucked among sections redesigning the timeline for school takeovers from six years to four years is a new section giving new powers to the State Board over school corporations which remain in the F category for four years: (p. 6, line 6 of the latest draft)

“Notwithstanding any other law, if the state board determines that taking at least one (1) of the actions listed in subsection (b) will improve the school corporation, the state board may take the action listed under subsection (b) that the state board determines is appropriate.”

The list of actions is on page 5, line 34:

“(1) Assigning a special management team to operate all or part of the school corporation. (2) Assigning a special management team to develop a transformation zone plan and assist the school corporation with implementing the plan. (3) Implementing the department’s recommendation for improving the school corporation. (4) Filing a petition with the distressed unit appeal board established under IC 6-1.1-20.3 seeking to have the school corporation designated as a distressed political subdivision. The distressed unit appeal board may designate the school corporation as a distressed political subdivision under IC 6-1.1-20.3-6.5 solely on the basis of the petition of the state board notwithstanding IC 6-1.1-20.3-6.”

The State Board would take charge. The high stakes consequences for student performance on the new standards and the brand new tests would now include the potential demise of the entire school corporation.

Should the State Board Get More Powers for Quicker Takeovers?

Representative Behning said yes. As sponsor of HB 1638, he introduced the bill by saying it was brought to him by the State Board of Education and by the Governor’s Office. As all would know by now, that is a powerful partnership.

State Board Member Dan Elsener said yes. Representative Behning called on him to present the bill.

Senator Rogers of Gary said no. In a long statement to Representative Behning and to Dan Elsener, she explained her opposition to this bill, saying that she believes Gary is “in the crosshairs to be the district that the State Board will come in and take over”. She described her complete opposition to the way the State Board decided to close Dunbar-Pulaski School last week at the State Board meeting, saying that Dunbar-Pulaski was closed with no plan to help the students so that students would go to Gary Roosevelt, the takeover school run by Edison, whose enrollment went from 1200 pre-takeover to 200 now, as well as the Charter School of the Dunes that is lacking enrollment. She said the students who transfer to those two schools would not be in the enrollment count for Gary schools, further depressing the funding for Gary. She said the State Board action was taken with no plan for where 700 students would go. She said that a State Board decision to close a school should require a unanimous vote. The contentious vote to close last week was 6-4.

Chad Timmerman, Governor Pence’s education policy director, said yes, along with representatives of the State Board, Hoosiers for Quality Education and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

The director of Evansville’s transformation zone testified about their success in Evansville.

Representative Vernon Smith said no. He said that in 25 years in the General Assembly, he had never before testified against a bill after it left the House, but this bill was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and is revolutionary in its nature. He spoke passionately against the bill for twenty minutes, giving a line by line explanation of the problems, saying it is not really about transformation zones but rather about takeovers.

Nathan Williamson and Rachael Davidson, IDOE staff members, said no, bringing elaborate data to the committee about the Indiana Department’s success in turning schools around, beginning in the first year a school is labeled D or F. They said after one year, 61,300 students moved from D/F schools to A/B/C schools, after a net turnaround count of 103 schools. They said that takeovers don’t work, and “accelerating the timeline would be a duplication.”

Others were emphatic in saying no, including representatives of ISBA, IAPSS, AFT-Indiana, ISTA and myself.

My testimony is attached. I focused on two questions: 1) Given the record of defiance of the State Board to comply with the General Assembly’s law to produce a new A-F system by November, 2013, should the General Assembly entrust the State Board with more power? I urged the committee not to reward the State Board for dragging their feet on bringing an improved A-F system by giving them more power. 2) Should the General Assembly take away more local control from local school boards and give it to the State Board or should the General Assembly instead reign in the powers of a State Board whose efforts to take over schools have led to community upheavals, costly contracts, endless controversies and litigation? Do you trust the State Board to take over more and more schools quicker and quicker as this bill envisions?

It’s Your Turn

Do you want the General Assembly to give the State Board unprecedented powers to take over schools and school corporations? If not, you need to contact Senators with your concerns, starting with the Senate Education Committee who will vote on this bill next Wednesday, March 25th, at their 1:30 meeting.

One easy way to contact members of the committee is to go to the Indiana General Assembly website and click on Committees, then on Standing Committees, and then on Senate Education. The pictures of committee members appear on the left. As you click on each picture, an email form comes up that you can use to state your concerns to each member.

[Click HERE to go to the Senate Education page]

If you believe that we don’t need more State takeovers and that local control is important for strong public schools, it is time for action in opposition to House Bill 1638.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew now.

We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which begins on January 6th. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


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