In an update to a story that we have discussed on the blog, Indiana passed the nation’s broadest voucher bill this week. It also passed a teacher merit pay bill that seems designed to create discontent among teachers and parents.
Part of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ education reform package, the voucher bill gives tax dollars to parents who want to send their children to private schools. The bill is not limited to low-income families or those whose children attend low-performing schools.
In a media statement thanking state legislators, Gov. Daniels said, “Their political courage and their commitment to a great education for every single child deserve the thanks not just of parents but of every citizen; Indiana has a far brighter future because of them.”
Critics maintain that the changes will drain funds from already struggling public schools in Indiana, which, like most states, has been cutting funding over the last few years. (This year, Indiana restored some funding, which will be used to offer full-day kindergarten.)
Billed as a broadening of the choice menu in the Hoosier state, Daniels’ education reform package also gives a tax deduction to parents who home school or send their children to private schools and expands charter and virtual schools. The tax deduction covers education expenditures, including textbooks.
As part of the governor’s reforms, Indiana also passed a controversial merit pay plan for teachers that requires annual evaluations based in part on student performance on tests. There would be four categories of teacher ratings — highly effective, effective, improvement necessary and ineffective — with merit pay limited to the top two.
A district couldn’t place a student with teachers who were rated ineffective for more than one year. If the district had no other choice because of its school staffing conditions, it would have to notify parents that their child was going to have “an ineffective teacher” for a second year. But once told this information, parents don’t appear to have any recourse.
Here is the exact language of the bill: (I think there must be a secret class on how to write legislation so it is nearly incomprehensible.)
(b) A student may not be instructed for two (2) consecutive years by two (2) consecutive teachers, each of whom was rated as ineffective under this chapter in the school year immediately before the school year in which the student is placed in the respective teacher’s class.
(c) If a teacher did not instruct students in the school year immediately before the school year in which students are placed in the teacher’s class, the teacher’s rating under this chapter for the most recent year in which the teacher instructed students, instead of for the school year immediately before the school year in which students are placed in the teacher’s class, shall be used in determining whether subsection (b) applies to the teacher.
(d) If it is not possible for a school corporation to comply with this section, the school corporation must notify the parents of each applicable student indicating the student will be placed in a classroom of a teacher who has been rated ineffective under this chapter. The parent must be notified before the start of the second consecutive school year.
I wonder how it helps to inform parents, “Your child is going to spend the year with a teacher that the state of Indiana has deemed ineffective. We thought you’d like to know even though there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Back to vouchers. Here are the details from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:
A family of four making less than $61,000 is eligible for a grant worth 50 percent of their local districts’ per-student funding. A similar family making $41,000 or lower would be eligible for a 90 percent voucher.
About 60 percent of Hoosier school kids qualify under the income guidelines.
The amount of the grant is limited to $4,500 for grades 1 through 8, with no cap for high school.
The bill requires students to attend public school for one year before being eligible for vouchers, meaning current private school students could not receive a voucher.
Kindergarten doesn’t count as the one year in public school.
The number of vouchers available statewide would be capped at 7,500 next school year and 15,000 the following year. After that, there is no limit.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog