A flurry of education bills saw action this week at the General Assembly, which also provided an advanced lesson on the art of legislative negotiation.
Infrastructure impasse continues:
House and Senate Republicans traded amendments inserting their preferred infrastructure proposals into the other chamber’s bills earlier this week – first, Senators forced parts of SB67 into HB1110, speeding the distribution of local income tax revenues back to cities and counties with the caveat that most funds be used on transportation projects.
The House retaliated by putting the responsible funding approach of HB1001 – supported by the Indy Chamber – into SB333 (the plan preferred by Governor Pence and the Senate GOP). Speaker Bosma and House appropriators also continue to defer action on the Governor’s request for additional Regional Cities Initiative funds, keeping a potent bargaining chip in the infrastructure debate.
Thursday, the Senate made a few concessions with a proposal that uses $429 million from reserves for state roads and imposes new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, while creating a task force to study long-term funding options. Local projects would receive the transfer from local revenue reserves and the option to impose wheel or excise taxes. The House leadership gave it a chilly reaction, standing firm for a sustainable revenue strategy for infrastructure.
This sets up an interesting couple of weeks of backroom wrangling and conference committee negotiation; we’ll be working towards a compromise that produces a long-term solution that pays for a competitive transportation system into the future.
But while the House and Senate try to educate one another on road-building plans, let’s review the action on measures affecting our actual schools:
Education bills get graded:
Consolidation of School Administrative Functions: The House Education committee heard SB307, which would have allowed school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, while keeping their “historical legacy.” Based on vocal opposition by rural county superintendents during House hearings, its Senate sponsor withdrew the bill. This shows again inflexible response by many local officials to even most modest, common-sense reform and efficiency plans – and the negativity surrounding this bill will likely lead to some tough questions for small school corporations during the budget session.
Various Education Matters: HB1394 saw a number of amendments before passing Senate Education 6-0. It creates guidelines for enrollment (geographic preference) and accountability for schools that convert to Innovation Network schools – avoiding state takeover by partnering with an outside organization or restructuring as a charter school within the school district. (Of local interest, the IPS board approved such arrangements for two schools – Riverside and Joyce Kilmer – Thursday evening.)
The bill also gives terminated teachers the right to meet with district leaders, and mandates 30-day notice be given by teachers who take positions with other school corporations during the academic year. It also deals with discipline policy and other administrative matters in charter schools.
Education Matters: HB1330 makes changes to the definition of "eligible provider" for purposes of the early education grant pilot program and mandates the Indiana Department of Education pursue and fairly distribute federal funding for schools and districts with a more comprehensive, well-staffed effort. It changes the composition and adds anexecutive director role to the Indiana education employment relations board. Finally, the bill provides that a charter school is considered a public school for purposes of calculating a school's full-time student population (average daily membership, or ADM), but exempts charters from certain performance-based accreditation rules.
School Pension Plans and Other Education Matters: HB1004 establishes the teachers' defined contribution plan as an account within the teachers' retirement fund and gives eligible school employees the option of selecting this plan. It directs PERF trustees to select and administer investment options for the plan (including a stable value fund). HB1004 passed Senate Education 7-4 The bill was amended on the Senate floor to allow for a school employer or exclusive representative to bargain on supplemental pay for hard to place teaching assignments. Bill was ordered to engrossment.
Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship: HB1002 passed the House with a lone dissenting vote, setting up a system for aspiring teachers with strong academic records to get $7,500 per year towards four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. However, Senate Appropriations gutted the bill this week, removing the scholarship program itself and replacing it with a charge for the Commission for Higher Education to study existing scholarship programs; it passed 11-0 as amended.
Choice Scholarships: SB334 would extend the state’s deadline for private schools to accept students using tax-funded vouchers and add an expanded child protection index check for aspiring teachers. It also has a provision adding a second ADM count date for special education students for informational purposes. It passed House Education 8-4 House and was recommitted to Ways and Means.
Various education issues: SB93, has many provisions, including one that would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so lower-grade teacher can participate in a federal loan forgiveness programs for “highly qualified teachers in high need areas.” The bill would also require that testing companies hired to create future ISTEP exams return scores to the State Board of Education no later than July 1. The bill is focused on making it easier for teachers from other states to become licensed in Indiana. It also addresses matters of revocation of a School Bus driver’s license. On the floor an amendment was added to provide that every school building shall be supplied with safe, potable water from sources and systems approved by state or local health and environmental officials, while requiring biannual water testing. It was engrossed on 3rd reading.
For other questions regarding the Indy Chamber's legislative efforts, please contact Vice President of Government Relations Mark Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org, 317.464.2291 and @FisherIndy.
Finally, don’t forget that the Statehouse isn’t the only place where the business agenda is being decided – the City-County Council will act in the next two months on putting a transit funding referendum on the November ballot, giving voters a voice on modern mass transit in Marion County. Contact your advocacy team for more details, or connect directly with your councilloron this important issue.