Charter Schools Bill Amended & Approved

The following is an update on HB 1002, regarding charter schools:

Authors: Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis)
Sponsor: Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn)

Summary: Allows private universities to serve as charter school authorizers.  Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer. (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 85%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes. 

Chamber Position: Support
Status: The Senate Appropriations Committee made additional changes this week that would increase funding for virtual charter schools to 85% of the state average rather than 90%, as proposed originally. Additional amendments were made to adjust how charter schools receive first semester funds (an ongoing concern that has caused charter schools to incur substantial operating loans) and to improve accountability for charter schools. The committee approved the amended bill on an 8-2 vote, with Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) and Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) joining Republicans in support of the bill; it is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate. 

Update/Chamber Action:  The Indiana Chamber continued to work much of this week in helping to develop an accountability component for charter school authorizers that would raise performance expectations without putting charter schools at risk of future political swings. We believe that the amendment adopted this week accomplishes that balance. As the bill continues to progress, we join Speaker Bosma, the author of this bill, in wanting to see the triggers for conversion charter schools improved. Those triggers, we believe, should focus on some super-majority of parents in the school, rather than a focus on teachers who often do not live in the school boundaries, do not send children to the school and do not pay taxes in the district. We also note some continuing frustration with a small minority of legislators who remain unwilling to acknowledge that charter schools are public schools and who continue to portray these schools as siphoning funds from "real" public schools.  Nonetheless, we continue to be pleased that this substantial bill is progressing and will continue to work with legislative leaders, the Indiana Department of Education and other charter school supporters to continue improving and advancing the bill. 

New Wisconsin Governor to Follow IEDC Model

A state wants to do away with its Department of Commerce and replace it with a public-private partnership. It wants the focus to be job creation. Citing Indiana as an example for its move six years ago, that is the current game plan from incoming Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Gov.-elect Scott Walker wants to eliminate the state Department of Commerce and replace it with a public-private entity focused solely on job creation.

Walker said he still wants the state to play "a direct role, a supporting role" in economic development, "but not necessarily doing that all through a state agency."

It’s not yet clear how the new partnership would operate, who would run it, or whether it would be subject to the state’s open meetings and records laws.

Walker mentioned the plan at a gathering of business leaders and interest groups at the Madison Club to promote a new report, "Be Bold — The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy."

The report offers similar suggestions for replacing the Commerce Department, saying the agency is responsible for many duties that have "little to do with job creation, which should rank as its top priority." It pointed to other areas, like natural resources and the public university system, where the state has governor-appointed boards.

It suggested creating an independent board to oversee the state’s job creation strategies and putting a variety of "private sector job creators" on that board, as well as the university system president, technical college system president, a union leader and a labor economist. It also recommended that the board be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, and be given oversight of the economic development bond fund and the power to review regulations affecting businesses.

Walker applauded the plan, but said he may go beyond some of its suggestions.

"It certainly is bold. And we want to be bold. In fact, we’ve told them repeatedly I want to be even bolder," Walker said. "And so, we may take this plan and build off it and be even more aggressive than what they’re presenting."


A Different KIPP Story

A recent Indianapolis Star story on charter schools found that the city’s KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter is falling well short in its performance in regard to student testing. The story accurately pointed out that charter performance, like that of other public schools, relies on strong teachers and solid leadership.

On a national level, 22 KIPP middle schools are part of a long-range study and have been lauded for strong achievement in an interim report.

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

Though KIPP schools have been the focus of previous research, this is by far the largest and most rigorous study to date. And the results are encouraging. Using matched student achievement data from 22 middle schools that had been open since at least 2005-06, Mathematica analysts found statistically significant impacts on reading in 15 of the 22, and on math in 18. Conversely, just two schools had a significantly negative impact on reading, while one school had a significantly negative impact on math (in year 1), which actually reversed into a positive impact by year three. These positive effects are sizable, especially in math. After three years in a KIPP school, a student will have made on average 4.2 years of growth in math and 3.9 years of growth in reading.

This was true even though KIPP included in its treatment group all students who were ever enrolled in a KIPP school during the study, including those who spent just one year at KIPP and subsequently left, as well as the results for two schools that lost their KIPP affiliation during the study and subsequently closed. That means these results are probably conservative in terms of students who remained enrolled at KIPP all four years of middle school because they hold KIPP accountable for students who actually were not at KIPP for the majority of their middle school years. Though KIPP surely deserves praise for these results, it should also be applauded for subjecting itself to such a rigorous assessment. 

The 116-page report is here.

California Still Not Learning Hard Lessons on Education

Oh, California. You gave us good wine, the Grateful Dead, and Reggie Miller. We should probably be a little kinder to you than we are. But you don’t make it easy. The Heartland Institute asserts the Golden State just isn’t getting it when it comes to education, throwing money at a failing system instead of letting the system work for the kids. Here’s an excerpt: 

Frustrated by some tough budget years, California public school officials want a court to declare the state’s Byzantine school finance system unconstitutional. The stated goal of the lawsuit is to circumvent lawmakers (and reality) by asking a judge to force billions of dollars in unaffordable education spending increases.

But the system isn’t "unconstitutional" so much as unworkable. The way to achieve an equitable and affordable public school system in the Golden State isn’t more funding to prop up a bloated bureaucracy. The answer is to fund all children equally by letting the funding follow the child. The answer is choice.

This is hardly a radical idea. Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, for example, offer tax credits to corporations and individuals who finance scholarships for children from low-income families. Even Sweden lets families choose the school they want, public or private, backed by a tax-subsidized scholarship…

The education establishment views the case as a bureaucracy preservation problem, which evades the real problem – the failure of that bureaucracy to educate California’s children. Students only enter the equation as a pretext for propping up the salaries and benefits of public employees.

The fact is, court-ordered school spending has never translated to academic success. A federal court judge ruled in 1985 that school officials in Kansas City, Mo., had to double local property taxes to fund $2 billion aimed at improving performance in low-income and mostly minority schools. In the blizzard of spending that followed over the next two decades, students got state-of-the-art science facilities, Olympic-size swimming pools, small classes – and no measurable improvement in academic outcomes.

Voters’ efforts to boost school funding haven’t translated to success either. Proposition 98, which Californians passed in 1988, locked California into a budget-busting mandate directing at least 40 percent of the state budget toward elementary and secondary education. Since its passage, California has seen negligible gains in academic outcomes and lagged well behind mediocre national trends.

What the California case needs is a second group of plaintiffs to intervene and argue the only workable way to secure the fundamental right to an education in a truly equitable fashion is to fund every child equally. The court certainly could declare the entire system unconstitutional – and then insist that funding follow the child to any school that meets California’s content standards.

Lasting reform requires shifting from the stifling chaos of the current "bureaucracy-based" system to the spontaneous order that will unfold as we fund the child. That’s the only system that comports with the spirit and the letter of the "equal protection" clause in any constitution.

Chavous: Time for Education is Now

Kevin Chavous doesn’t mince words when it comes to education. And if a few more people shared his passion for truly leaving no child behind, all of us (particularly our students) would be the beneficiaries.

During his Wednesday speech to the Economic Club of Indiana, the Indianapolis native and Wabash College graduate said (and backed up the opinions):

  •  “Nothing is more important to the future of this country than the education of our young people.”
  • “Public education is, by and large, failing our children.” He called it unconscionable that as many as 80% of African American males that enter the Indianapolis Public Schools system eventually are dropouts
  • “It’s intolerable to accept mediocrity (in our schools), and that is what we do.”
  • “Innovation and creativity need to be tailored toward kids’ best interest, not the systems’ best interest.”
  • “The system snuffs the lifeblood out of the best and brightest teachers.”
  • “No bureaucracy has reformed itself from within. It has to come from citizens and parents.”

Need proof of a system that is broken? Chavous offers New York’s “rubber room,” where incompetent teachers sit (and get paid, sometimes for years) while in the process of being fired; California teachers get automatic tenure for life with no reviews after two years on the job (while the union itself admits it takes five to seven years to know if a teacher is capable of doing a good job); and a Washington, D.C. union negotiating plank that all teachers must leave the building by 3:15 p.m. or police will be called (no more working or helping students than the minimum).

A lawyer in Washington, Chavous has been an education reformer within the city and around the country. He gives three reasons why Americans should be outraged at our country’s declining education performance:

  1. A moral imperative to not abandon the many students who are not given a chance to succeed beyond their early years
  2. A public safety analysis that revealed a 10% high school graduation increase would lead to a 20% reduction in the murder rate, fewer incarcerations and more productive citizens
  3. An economic report that showed closing the achievement gaps of students of color, poor students and students compared to their international peers would result in gross domestic product increases of billions and trillions of dollars

Chavous served on President Obama’s education policy team during the campaign, but vehemently opposed the administration’s decision to cut funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. His guiding principles on education policy: “The question I ask myself is, ‘Will this proposal help a child or group of children learn? If the answer is yes, I support it.’" And his closing comment on what all need to focus on moving forward – "what’s in the best interest of children, not adults?"

Education makes an encore appearance at the February 23 Economic Club luncheon with Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College.