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April 1, 2013

High-performing schools bill stalled in House

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation that would free high-performing schools from some state regulations is stalled in the House, as lawmakers work out details of how much flexibility to give those schools.

One of the sticking points that has kept Senate Bill 189 from coming up for a committee vote in the House is disagreement over the bill’s provision that would allow those high-performing schools to shorten their school year.

The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel, wants to free top-achieving schools from the state’s current 180-day school year requirement and give them some additional flexibility in teacher evaluations and curriculum.

But one of the bill’s sponsors in the House said there are some reservations about letting schools shorten their school year when other options – including shortening the school day – may be a better option.

“There is a general consensus that we need to create more flexibility for high-performing schools,” said Rep. Todd Huston, a freshman Republican legislator from Fishers. “The question is how do we do that in a way that benefits the kids.”

Senate Bill 189 passed out of the Senate in mid-February on a vote of 44-5, but has yet to have a committee vote in the House. Testimony has been heard on the bill by the House education committee but a vote on it has been postponed several times.

It’s now expected to come up again in front of the House education committee next week. Huston said it will likely be amended but declined to say what amendments he’ll offer or support.

Delph wasn’t available for comment.

The bill is designed to give high-performing school districts what Delph calls “regulatory relief” from certain state education rules. If passed, it would allow those school districts that meet certain standards to develop some of their own curriculum, design their own teacher evaluations, and create their own plan for career and technical training.

It would allow those school districts to organize their classroom time based on instructional minutes instead of the current 180-day school year.

To qualify, schools would have to meet certain goals, including a 90 percent graduation rate and higher SAT scores than statewide averages.

Only about 20 school districts, out of the state’s nearly 300 districts, currently qualify. Two school corporations in Delph’s district – Zionsville and Carmel-Clay – would qualify based on their current performance.

The bill has the enthusiastic support of administrators with the Zionsville Community Schools; they see it as a way to get some relief from the pressures created three years ago when the state cut $300 million in funding to K-12 schools.

Mike Shafer, the district’s chief financial officer, has said the legislation, among other things, would allow some schools to offer “e-days,” enabling students to stay home from school and complete coursework online.

He said the bill is aimed at schools that are “not in need of micromanaging.”

There’s been support from both the Republican-controlled House and from Republican Gov. Mike Pence for rewarding high-performing schools.

Pence, for example, is calling for a small increase in school funding over the next two years, with the second year’s increase based on schools meeting certain performance growth benchmarks.

But there has been reluctance on the part of several House education committee members, including committee chairman, Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, to cut short the 180-day school year.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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