State Senator Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond

March 23 – 26, 2015

Committee activities dominate session as crucial deadlines near. With only one month left to act on legislation, lawmakers are working to advance hundreds of initiatives. Still under consideration by the Republican-dominated General Assembly are controversial bills that would remove Democrat-elected School Superintendent Glenda Ritz as Chair of the State Board of Education, and make numerous changes to other K-12 education policies. This brief summary highlights a few of the bills of interest to educators moving through the process.

Education issues

Legislation to strip Democrat-elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz of her leadership role on the State Board of Education (SBOE) is awaiting House action. Senate Bill (SB) 1 changes the composition of the board and gives board appointees the power to elect the chair. In addition, the bill authorizes the SBOE to hire an executive director and necessary staff. Attempts by Democrats to restore the superintendent’s duties were defeated. SB 1 is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee. The superintendent has chaired the SBOE since 1913 and the board governance has been in place since 1984.

The most important proposal under consideration this session is the state budget bill, House Bill (HB) 1001.The House of Representatives approved a $31.5 billion, two-year state budget proposal that increases funding for K-12 education, domestic violence programs, community corrections, tourism, and transportation. Opponents expressed concerns regarding cuts to school funding for urban and rural districts in favor of more funding for suburban districts, charters and private schools that receive state funds from voucher students. The House budget plan cuts basic education funding for 139 school districts in the first year and another 89 in the second year.

A key concern is that even though the House-approved budget adds new money to the school funding formula, it redistributes hundreds of millions of dollars within the formula that currently aid urban and rural schools serving low-income students. HB 1001 is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee where changes are expected.

Labeled a “teacher bill of rights” by supporters, SB 538 changes a number of collective bargaining parameters and diminishes the rights of union representatives and members. The proposal takes authority away from the Department of Education regarding teacher salary oversight and gives that power to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, a board appointed by the governor. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee.

HB 1009 allows a governing body of one or more school corporations to establish a “freedom to teach” school, zone (group of schools), or district.  It also establishes the “Career Pathways Pilot Program” under which schools would be required to increase qualifying teacher salaries. The State Board of Education (SBOE) would administer and evaluate these zones as well as develop and administer the pilot program. In addition, the bill establishes a grant fund with an annual appropriation of $2 million to be administered by the SBOE to qualified programs. The bill aims to allow flexibility and innovation for teachers to try new teaching strategies and be more independent from administrative regulations. However opponents, including the Department of Education (DOE), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the

Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), expressed numerous concerns including the program’s funding through one-time grants, the implementation process and a loss of due process rights for teachers.

Also, the DOE, AFT and ISTA strongly oppose HB 1638, which would give the SBOE the power to take over an entire school district. It changes the timeline, from six years to four years, for state intervention for a school initially placed in the lowest category or designation of school improvement after June 30, 2016. The bill makes various changes to the provisions relating to management of turnaround academies by special management teams. It provides that the SBOE may approve a governing body’s plan to establish a transformation zone. Discussions with opposing groups, the governor’s office, and the bill’s authors are ongoing in attempts to make improvements to both HB 1638 and HB 1009. Both bills have been held for another week for further review by the Senate Education Committee.

HB 1005 would allow an individual that is employed as a teacher to qualify for a tax credit of up to $200 per year for money spent on classroom supplies. The bill unanimously passed the House, and is now before the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.  HB 1108 defines “dyslexia” and would require an individual who seeks to receive an initial practitioner’s license as an elementary school teacher to demonstrate proficiency in the recognition of a student’s special learning needs, including those related to dyslexia. The bill is now before the full Senate.

Education bills gain Senate approval

HB 1068 makes changes to the definition of an “expanded criminal background check,” which is required for employment at a school. The bill now goes to the governor for final consideration.

HB 1188 provides that a student who is required to complete student teaching be supervised by an certified teacher rated as effective or highly effective as defined by teacher standards. This bill now goes to the governor for final consideration.

HB 1194 deals with students with disabilities who receive special education services. Currently, many of these students do not receive a diploma, which hinders future job opportunities. This bill requires, beginning with grade 9, that meetings take place between parents, teachers and school advisors to lay out a diploma plan, and to meet regularly to review progress and keep the students on track so they can receive a diploma. The bill returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

HB 1438 provides that the DOE shall distribute funding for adult high schools to the adult high school’s organizer instead of the funding being paid to each adult school the organizer operates. The bill returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Senate deadlines

April   9             Deadline for committee hearings on House bills.

April 15             Third Reading deadline for Senate action on House bills.

April 16             Conference committee process begins.

April 29             General Assembly must conclude business by midnight.

To learn more about bills moving through the Indiana General Assembly, log on to www.in.gov/legislative. Also from here, you can watch the House and Senate in session as well as committee hearings.

Senate Democrats offer up-to-date information at www.SenateDemocrats.IN.gov. Multimedia updates on the Senate’s daily activities are provided at The Briefing Room (www.INSenDems.wordpress.com) and Twitter at @INSenDems (www.twitter.com/INSenDems).

Visit my web site at www.in.gov/s1 and subscribe to receive periodic e-mails about action taken on major issues. Check out my Facebook profile at www.facebook.com/senatorfrankmrvan.

Personal contact with constituents has a direct impact on legislation considered by the General Assembly and what ultimately becomes state law. Please contact me to express your concerns regarding pending legislation or if I can be of assistance.