In the Classroom

Teacher pay, scholarships bills rise from the dead

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The state legislature today brought back to life all or part of two education bills that had been given up for dead.

With just one day left in a legislative session that leaders hope to wrap tomorrow, the measures — a controversial effort to let school districts pay some teachers more than others and a popular idea to help future teachers pay for college — re-emerged during a process used to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of bills.

The scholarship bill — House Bill 1002 — aims to recruit more teachers to Indiana classrooms to address a teaching shortage that’s affected some schools across the state.

The bill had broad support in the House but seemed doomed to collapse last month when the Senate Appropriations Committee dumped the scholarship program and replaced it a plan to study existing scholarship programs instead. Although the original bill did not address how the scholarships would be funded, the committee chairman, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, raised concerns about the potential cost — which could amount to $15.2 million over the first four years of the program.

The final version of the bill now pays for the program. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who authored the bill, added language that would direct $10.5 million to the scholarship program.

If the bill wins final approval from both houses and is signed by Gov. Mike Pence, the scholarships would begin in Fall of 2017.

College students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes or scored in the top 20th percentile on the ACT or SAT tests could apply for $7,500 per year toward four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, said it supports the current version of the bill, as does former Hamilton Heights superintendent Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero.

“I think it will be successful,” Cook said. “I think the additions make it even stronger and better.”

The teacher pay bill has gotten new life through a teacher mentoring bill.

The controversial effort to give district superintendents the power to pay some teachers above union-negotiated pay scales has been killed off twice this year — once by the Senate and once by the House — but the issue keeps returning. Lawmakers can always offer ideas from bills that have failed as amendments to other bills on a similar topic, like education.

A milder version of the concept has resurfaced in House Bill 1005, a teacher mentoring bill that now contains a grab bag of education issues including provisions on vouchers and stipends for teachers who teach college-level classes in high schools known as dual credit classes.

The teacher pay effort was shot down in both the senate’s version, Senate Bill 10, and the House version, House Bill 1004, after Republican legislative leaders said the idea, which angered many teachers and the unions that represent them, had become too misunderstood.

When it was proposed as an addition to the mentoring bill, it took some lawmakers by surprise.

“I thought we were not going to do supplemental pay outside of collective bargaining this session,” Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said during a House Rules Committee meeting. “All of a sudden we have this provision in here?”

Specifically, the new language would permit school districts to give extra pay to teachers of Advanced Placement classes, through which students can earn college credit that allows them to bypass introductory college courses.

Rep. Bob Behning, House Education Committee chairman, said state law already allows districts to give extra pay to dual credit teachers without having to negotiate with unions. The new proposal, he said, just tweaked state law rather than made the wider changed that had been previously proposed. He said no educators complained to him this year about the existing dual credit provision.

“AP and dual credit are both college-bound programs, they require more rigor than traditional programs and they’re very important to kids to go to college,” Behning said.

Critics of the extra pay provision, including the state’s teachers unions, have argued it would create conflicts among teachers and hurt more teachers than it helps by shifting money away from some to offer extra to others. No new funding was included in the bill for teacher salaries. Supporters of the idea say more freedom to offer extra pay would allow districts to attract teachers to schools that are struggling to fill positions, especially those with special expertise.

The teacher mentoring bill also now includes other controversial education ideas discussed earlier in the legislative session.

Lawmakers added in all of Senate Bill 334, including a proposal to extend the deadline for applications for taxpayer-funded vouchers from Sept. 1 to Jan. 15. The mentoring bill with its new additions passed the full House in a 51-43 final vote. It next heads to the Senate.


New program aims to make advocates out of Memphis high schoolers

PHOTO: Campaign for School Equity
Students discuss advocacy topics during their session at Fairley High School, one of 10 schools in Shelby County participating in the program.

When it comes to conversations about education policy, students are often the least heard.

But amplifying young voices is the goal of a new program launched by two Memphis-based advocacy groups, Campaign for School Equity and Latino Memphis.

“I joined the group because of things that are going on around school, and I believe that we as leaders can change it,” said Angel Smith, 16, a senior at Hillcrest High School, one of 10 schools in the program. “I want to change how our school does discipline … and learn why some schools have more money than others.”

Many students feel powerless to improve conditions at their schools, said Katie Martin, who will oversee the program as advocacy manager for Campaign for School Equity. “It is so exciting to help them discover their own voices and realize that they can have a direct impact on the issues that matter to them,” she said.

About 100 high school students from Fairley, Martin Luther King Preparatory, Hillcrest, Trezevant and Southwest Early College High will take a monthly class on topics ranging from advocacy strategies to political campaign development.

Beginning in November, high-schoolers from Cordova, Wooddale, White Station, Kingsbury, and Southwind will also have classes at their schools.

Mendell Grinter, executive director of Campaign for School Equity, said students have already expressed interest in pushing for better school facilities and more discipline practices based on restorative justice.

The goal is for students to help shape Campaign for School Equity’s legislative platform and run their own school-based advocacy campaigns. In December, students will vote on priorities for the upcoming legislative season, Grinter said.

Students will take courses on research, writing opinion pieces, advocacy methods and campaign development. They also will meet with their local representatives, such as Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson, who will speak with Hillcrest High students in late October.

Campaign for School Equity is funding the program, and students were selected based on their interest and school recommendations.

Grinter said the program marks a shift in his group’s priorities. Formerly known as the Tennessee chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Campaign for School Equity has focused on promoting school choice for black families and engaging Memphis clergy around education.

“There are programs in Memphis to reach parents and community members and get them involved with advocacy, but not really students,” Grinter said. “We’re really going to double down on creating that space.”

Latino Memphis is an advocacy group for the city’s Hispanic and Latino communities and is working with Campaign for School Equity to include Latino students. 

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.