In 2015, Indiana launched a preschool pilot program across five counties sending about 2,300 low-income children to a preschool program. The state appropriation was $10 million.
The pilot program began in the wake of a decision by Gov. Pence to reject $80 million earmarked from the federal government for Hoosier preschoolers.
Not surprisingly, the small pilot proved popular and demand has far outpaced the funding.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, Indiana is considered to be “in progress” with its recent efforts –however the state supports fewer than one percent of four-year olds.
Recognize the true value of preschool education and provide the funding support to local community public schools to offer it.
Reduce Class Sizes
Create a learning environment with class sizes that enable teachers to connect one-on-one with each student. Class size and student-teacher ratios matter with regard to student performance. Indiana has lost ground and interest in knowing where it stands with regard to quality student-to-teacher interaction and attention.
Conduct a statewide audit of class sizes in Indiana public schools.
Stop Over-Testing Students and Misusing Scores
The overemphasis on standardized tests and the amount of classroom time allocated to the wide array of assessments is detrimental to student learning. Over-testing depletes valuable instructional hours. Test anxiety among students has increased due to the weight put on these assessments.
- Suspend A - F accountability grades during the transition to new standards and assessments.
- Provide greater balance between student instructional time and testing.
- Provide greater local flexibility in development and implementation of student assessments.
- Increase the use of student alternative assessments, such as formative tests instead of ISTEP.
Recognize Developmental Delays in Students Until Age 9
Developmental disabilities occur among all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Recent estimates in the U.S. show about one in six, or about 15 percent, of children aged three through 17 years have one or more developmental disabilities.
Indiana currently recognizes developmental delay until 5 years old. Federal regulations allow for developmental delays to be recognized by each state until 9 years old. Indiana’s early cut-off means that services children have been receiving, which help their academic, social, mental and/or physical well-being, are cut prematurely, thus putting children at a greater risk for failure in school.
Increase the age that developmental delays are recognized in Indiana to 9 years old.
Students’ life experiences not only impact their behavior and their ability to learn, but impact their long-term health and life expectancy. If untreated, trauma can account for a 20-year reduction in one’s life expectancy. As the number of traumatic events experienced during childhood increases, the risk for the following health problems in adulthood increases depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide attempts, heart and liver diseases, pregnancy problems, high stress, uncontrollable anger and family and financial and job problems.
Young children exposed to five or more significant adverse experiences in the first three years of childhood face a 76 percent likelihood of having one or more delays in their language, emotional or brain development.
A child's reactions to trauma can interfere considerably with learning and/or behavior at school. Sixty percent of adults report experiencing abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood. Twenty-six percent of the children in the U.S. will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four.
Trauma Informed Care changes the way schools provide services for students. The question becomes, “What has happened to this child?”, instead of, “What is wrong with this child?”. A student’s school can serve as a critical system of support for a child who has experienced trauma.
Administrators, teachers and staff can help reduce the impact of trauma on children by recognizing trauma responses, accommodating and responding to traumatized students within the classroom setting and referring children to outside professionals when necessary.
- Create a safe and supportive schools program.
- Create a grant program to enable the department of education to coordinate school training programs.
Funding and resources will always top the list of factors that impact quality learning programs. The following funding information offers policymakers an overview of the systemic challenges faced by Indiana’s public schools – where 94 percent of Hoosier students learn.
There is little doubt that Indiana has struggled to keep pace with public education funding compared to the rest of the nation.
Multiple data points bear out a trend.
Annual Percentage Increases Under Enacted Funding Formula
The most recent national data comes from 2014 – 15, which shows Indiana ranks 49 out of 51 (includes Washington, D.C.) in expenditures for public K – 12 schools per student based on fall enrollment.
This ranking is a long way from where Indiana traditionally has stood for much of the last two decades.
The following chart depicts, with great clarity, where Indiana ranked in expenditures, per student, from 1995 to the present.
Categorical funding consists of the various program funds included in the state’s budget as line items that are outside the school funding formula. The following table lists a handful of these programs that have gone year-after-year without an increase or have ultimately been eliminated.
The US average teacher salary for 2014 – 15 was $57,420. Indiana’s average teacher salary was $50,877.
Indiana currently ranks 27th in average teacher salaries.
However, adjusting for inflation, Indiana has the second worst decline in teacher salaries in the country over the last decade. The only state whose track record is worse is Illinois.
While a few states’ average teacher salary actually rose during this period, the national average fell by 1.6 percent Indiana’s real decline during this time fell by 11 percent.
Solution: It is clear that Indiana will be challenged to reverse the funding trends depicted in one biennium. However, recommended increases of 3 percent in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and 2 percent in FY 2019 would be a credible jumpstart to restoring funding and salary levels.
The 2016 ISTEP+ test was the second year of a new state assessment for grades 3 – 8 based on Indiana’s more rigorous college and career ready standards. As a result of the transition to new standards and assessment, a new baseline was established for ISTEP+ in 2015.
The spring ISTEP test was also the first year of a new state assessment for grade 10 with the college and career ready standards. Grade 10 results are not comparable to previous years’ pass rates and should, at the very least, be considered to be a new baseline.
As has been the case in other states, transitioning from new standards to new tests takes time.
Solution: While Indiana undergoes the transition to new state standards and assessment, lawmakers should suspend invoking any accountability consequences with regard to schools, districts and communities.
The Financial Impact of Vouchers
In 2011, Indiana created the Choice Scholarship program, commonly referred to as school vouchers.
The growing financial cost of Indiana’s private school voucher program is impacting local school districts directly. Private and parochial schools, with this new infusion of taxpayer support, are expanding grade levels – creating a need for more funding.
Since vouchers were funded at 90 percent of public school funding, they were marketed to Indiana lawmakers as a taxpayer savings with a promise to school districts that they would share in that savings through a rebate.
Students had to attend a public school first, for two semesters, so that the state committed to counting them in the appropriations. The savings theory only works when the state has already counted the student. Indiana quickly abandoned the public school first tenet the program was built on, and in doing so abandoned any hope of a public school rebate or of any taxpayer savings. In 2011 – 12, public schools received a total rebate of about $4 million, the only year since the enactment of the program.
After the pathway for students to receive a voucher expanded – no longer requiring students to attend a public school first – any hope of a rebate disappeared. Today, Indiana’s voucher program is operating at a loss to taxpayers in the amount of more than $53 million for the 2015 – 16 school year.
The total amount of vouchers awarded has also grown exponentially as caps were removed. Initially, $15 million was awarded to 3,900 students. This has now grown to $131 million awarded to nearly 33,000 students.
Solution: As a matter of public interest and greater transparency, separate voucher school funding from community-based school funding.
Private School Tax Credit
Beginning with the 2010 taxable year, Indiana established a state income tax credit to enable taxpayers with means to make contributions to scholarship granting organizations (SGO) and then to receive a direct credit against the taxpayer’s state income tax liability. The tax credit equals 50 percent of the taxpayer’s contribution to the SGO.
In 2015, the General Assembly increased the state’s overall cap on the program from $7.5 million to $8.5 million in 2016 and $9.5 million in 2017.
There are no limits on how much a single taxpayer can contribute. The only limit is the 50 percent credit amount and the state’s overall cap in a given year.
More than 81 percent of the credits that had been granted since 2010 have been to taxpayers making more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income and 62.2 percent were given to taxpayers making more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income. This credit has become a windfall to some of Indiana’s most affluent taxpayers – enabling them to choose whether to pay taxes that benefit the public good or give to an SGO to fund private school tuition.
Solution: Repeal the state’s income tax credits granted to individuals who, instead of paying taxes, are allowed to divert those funds to organizations that fund private school tuition scholarships. Indiana cannot afford these unnecessary tax giveaways and a repeal potentially keeps the state from losing up to $9.5 million in revenue each year.
Charter School Accountability & Transparency
Charters have become an industry with rapid expansion in recent years. Nationally, around 2,000 new charters have opened in the past five years, and there are more than 6,000 charters nationwide with over 2.5 million students.
Charter schools in Indiana grew from just 11 in 2002 to 88 today. Charter school enrollment in Indiana is now more than 34,000 students. With millions of dollars poured into charters each year, these schools must be held accountable to taxpayers for performance, as well as, safeguarding dollars that are now diverted away from community-based schools.
- Create a charter school market assessment board to oversee the number, viability and need of establishing new charter schools. All stakeholders should be represented in the development of a long-range plan regarding criteria for new openings and closures and demographic changes.
- Require all charter school board members and officers to file a statement of economic interest and financial disclosure to prevent conflicts of interest. Names and contact information for all members of the charter’s governing body, officers and administrators should be publicly accessible on the school’s website.
- Call for no less than 50 percent of a charter’s public meetings take place in the residential zone in which the school is located.
- Represent the local community by including at minimum two members that reside within the school zone rather than out-of-state entity representation alone. Ideally, charter boards would be elected and represent the residents of the geographic zone.
- Establish annual audits and financial reports. The Indiana Department of Education should approve and monitor a plan to prevent financial and enrollment fraud, waste and abuse. Reports should be posted annually to the public via the school’s website. Both public and private funds should be reported along with up-to-date enrollment numbers, and audits should be independent. Payments to charters should be stopped if cases of fraud or abuse are found, and charters should be revoked in these incidents. Records should be subject to public request. Charter management companies should be required to report all expenditures and profits (including staff and administrator salaries).
- Balance fairness in admission. Charters should be required to provide equal access and not be allowed to selectively admit and expel students. School discipline policies should also be fair and transparent.
- Meet statewide curriculum and academic standards. The full student range of services should be reported on the school’s website.
- Ensure school employees and staff can organize and collectively bargain without interference by, or discouragement from, the administration or governing body. All employees should have due process rights. Licensure should be required for all full-time teachers.
- Limit charters to a five-year maximum period until student performance results merit renewal of contracts. Prohibit charter organizers from opening new charters or expanding current ones until a track record of performance is available.
Collective bargaining has a very long and rich tradition that directly impacts student learning. Bargaining helps ensure that qualified, licensed teachers are in every classroom. Bargaining incentivizes teachers to stay in classrooms for a career rather than leaving for alternative opportunities. Benefits and pensions encourage educators to stay in schools. Yet, legislation continues to attempt to strip those incentives away. Efforts to erode organizing and bargaining worsen the teacher shortage problem.
The right to bargain working conditions was required under law prior to sweeping reforms in 2011, which restricted bargaining to salary and employee benefits. In 2015, the General Assembly further narrowed salary and benefits bargaining to specifically prohibit the bargaining of performance pay and master’s degree attainment.
- Restore collective bargaining for the issue of hours worked.
- Uncouple teacher evaluation decisions from salary calculations at least until student test implementation and results are considered solid.
- Broaden the timeline for formal bargaining to at least Nov. 15 to allow districts greater flexibility and more accurate financial projections based on Average Daily Membership counts and benefits costs.
- Restore student learning/working conditions and the school calendar as mandatory subjects of discussion.
- Prohibit school districts that have excessive cash balances and rainy day funds from claiming “deficit financing” during bargaining.
- Restore collective bargaining to all salary and wage issues, including performance pay and master’s degrees.
Balance Out-of-pocket Expenses
School employees continue to face premium increases to their health insurance plans as providers raise costs. Some corporations have seen more than a 40 percent increase in one year to maintain the same amount of coverage. School corporations shift some of this burden to employees as new contracts are negotiated. Combined with sluggish rising wages educators are feeling the pinch.
- Increase the cap on what school districts can pay for employee health care from the 112 percent of the costs for the state employee plan to 120 percent.
- Restrict counting an employee’s Health Savings Account toward the cap.
- Count only the teachers for purposes of the 112 percent cap.
Eliminate High-Stakes Consequences on Teacher Evaluations
Pressures linked to student standardized testing create unreasonable workloads for teachers and serve as disincentives to take assignments in hard-to-staff schools.
Attrition is higher in schools facing A – F pressure. This worsens the shortage dilemma, because low-performing schools continue the revolving door where effective teachers are churned out for better options elsewhere.
- Place a moratorium on using student data for high-stakes consequences linked to teacher evaluations during the transition to new academic standards and assessments.
- Maintain local control in the development and implementation of teacher performance evaluation models.
- Prohibit state-driven, mandated percentages that significantly inform evaluations.
- Provide training for both evaluators and teachers regarding the evaluation process, criteria and expectations.
- Provide teacher input in the development of local plans, as well as a strong feedback loop throughout the evaluation process.
- Develop and implement a fair and transparent appeals process for teacher evaluations.
- Any state audit of teacher evaluation systems (as proposed to the State Board of Education) should include teacher input and perspectives, in addition to data on student percentages.
Support Professional Development
In 2001, the budget provided $20.5 million for professional development. In 2004, that amount was reduced to $14 million, where it held until 2010 when another reduction then took the assistance down to $5.5 million. Ultimately, in 2012, the General Assembly eliminated professional development funding altogether.
Solution: Create a state grant program administered by the Indiana Department of Education for professional development opportunities that relate to improving student learning.
Incentivize National Board Certification
National Board Certification is the most respected professional credential available for teaching. There are currently more than 110,000 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) in the country. It is both performance-based and peer-reviewed. While neighboring states offer incentives and enjoy national certified teachers in the thousands, Indiana has fewer than 200 NBCTs, ranking 43rd in the nation.
- Create a long-term commitment encouraging Hoosier educators to pursue National Board Certification, and then leverage those experts in districts to raise the practice of teaching district-by-district. The goal would be to have at least one NBCT in every public school building by 2025. The state would commit to provide National Board Certification fee subsidies for up to 200 teachers each year for the next 10 years.
- Applicants have three years to complete the process, which involves the completion of four components: content knowledge, differentiation in instruction, teaching practice and learning environment and effective and reflective practitioner. Each component is about $475, totaling $1,900 over the three years.
- Commit to provide each successful NBCT an annual salary stipend of $2,000 over the life of the 10-year license. In return, NBCTs will agree to serve as mentors to other teachers.
Re-Establish the Indiana Professional Standards Board
One common characteristic of a profession is a body of practitioners who oversee the creation of standards, enforcement of standards and the administration of licenses (initial awarding, renewals and revocations). Lawyers have their respective bar associations. Physicians and nurses have licensing boards.
Solution: Re-establish an Indiana Professional Standards Board as an independent, autonomous body that governs teacher training and licensure. Ensure there is a broad-based representation of practitioners.
Recruit the Best and Brightest Teachers
Attracting and retaining qualified educators is vital to ensuring Indiana’s students are taught by highly-qualified teachers in every classroom. The quality of our educator workforce has a direct impact on student learning and long-term effects on the state’s economic well-being. Students need the latest skills and knowledge to compete in an increasingly global economy. Teacher quality plays a major role in providing educational and career opportunities to all Hoosier students, and is the single most important school-related factor impacting student learning.
- Create and fund a program within the Indiana Department of Education that provides incentives and supports to school districts to develop additional programs in high schools, beyond the cadet teaching program to draw future educators into the profession.
- Create a working, state-funded loan-forgiveness program that exchanges student loan forgiveness for service. Ensure this program not only includes loan forgiveness opportunities for teacher candidates, but also extends to existing teachers who are paying student loans.
Strengthen Pension & Retirement Benefits
When policymakers ensure a pension for public employees, including teachers, they are making a statement to those employees that they are important, their work is valued and they are worth the investment.
By all accounts, the Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS) is in good shape and is used as an example nationally of how to run a public pension plan. The plan is well-funded at 80 percent and considered fiscally sound by experts including INPRS.
INPRS has indicated that Indiana has the lowest burden per household to fully fund public pensions in the country. Indiana also has the second lowest combined pension and long-term debt liability in the U.S. as a percentage of its gross domestic product.
The idea that the state can no longer afford public pensions for its employees is a
manufactured crisis. There is no urgency for this draconian change. The system is not broken and there is no looming danger.
Efforts to transition Indiana’s current hybrid defined benefit (DB)/annuity retirement benefit for teachers to a 401(k) style defined contribution (DC) plan are misguided and will exacerbate, not solve, Indiana’s teacher shortage.
- Focus on providing a true cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retirees, rather than a 13th check. Based on future projections, COLA amounts should be on a scale ranging from three percent to one percent.
- Provide a catch-up provision to help elevate pension benefits of those who have been in retirement for a long time to improve purchasing power for retirees.
- Ensure that Indiana’s plan remains a hybrid DB/DC plan rather than moving to a DC plan, which would lower benefits to retirees.
- Maintain DB plans for new teachers as an incentive to remain in the profession rather than exacerbating the teacher shortage problem by worsening retirement benefits.
- Provide a partial state payment for retiree health insurance through a transition to Medicare.