At the halfway mark of the 2020 Indiana General Assembly, the policy pendulum continues to swing away from education reform in the midst of an impending election and “Red for Ed” rallies. Though the verdict on this session is decidedly mixed at this point, there are a few silver linings from an education/workforce standpoint.

Senate Bill 2 (School Accountability), authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), cleared both the Senate and House and is now headed to Gov. Holcomb for his signature. The bill institutes a two-year pause, or “hold harmless,” on school performance designations (“A-F” letter grades) linked to student performance on the state’s new ILEARN assessments. Named as a top legislative priority by the Governor and lawmakers in both houses this session, the bill was fast-tracked by the General Assembly in response to widespread concern stemming from the disappointing 2018 ILEARN results in which only 37% of students statewide passed both the English and math portions of the tests. The Chamber opposed the measure, maintaining that the hold harmless should be a one-year action at most given that the ILEARN results are a valid and accurate reflection of student learning and consistent with Indiana students’ recent performance on other assessments, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or NAEP). We are reminded of the old saying: What gets measured gets done. Refusing to acknowledge, accept and learn from disappointing results is no way to make progress.

House Bill 1002 (Teacher Evaluations), authored by Rep. Anthony Cook (R-Cicero), passed the House on a 100-0 vote and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. The measure removes a current state requirement that local school districts’ educator evaluation systems be based, in part, on “objective measures of student achievement,” including Indiana’s ILEARN assessments. This change would preclude schools from using student assessment results – both overall performance and learning growth – in gauging the effectiveness of their classroom teachers.  The Chamber believes jettisoning objective data-driven measures altogether in favor of subjective measures like classroom observations by school principals sends the message that “results don’t matter” and sets a troubling precedent for future progress in Indiana education. It’s worth noting that about 98% of Indiana teachers are rated “effective” or “highly effective” by their administrators, and other policy advocates, including the National Council on Teacher Quality, have joined the Chamber in opposing the proposed change to teacher evaluations as well as the hold harmless noted above.

Senate Bill 319 (Practitioner or Accomplished Practitioner License), authored by Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), cleared the Senate 49-0. The bill reverses a legislative mandate from last year recommended by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet – making it optional, not required – that Indiana teachers earn a portion (15 hours) of their professional growth points for license renewal through a range of activities aimed at increasing career awareness. The Chamber opposed this provision of the bill, as well as similar language in House Bill 1003, given the pervasive lack of understanding (and common misconceptions) among students, parents and educators regarding Indiana’s changing labor market and the emerging career opportunities across industry sectors. The Chamber believes that equipping teachers to help bridge this knowledge gap through intentional professional development is both reasonable and relevant to student success in a 21st century economy. The Chamber would support providing teachers with greater flexibility and additional options, but making it optional altogether essentially ensures that it will be underutilized.

Senate Bill 223 (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), authored by Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), passed the Senate 38-12. Championed by the Chamber as a legislative priority this session, the bill would require Indiana high school seniors to file for student financial aid with an opt-out option that allows the requirement to be waived by the student’s parent or principal. The measure – based on a policy that has proved effective in other states – aims to increase student awareness and access to grants and scholarships that can help Hoosiers earn industry-recognized credentials and degrees with reduced or no debt. Given that Indiana’s workforce is increasingly dependent on individuals earning postsecondary degrees and industry-recognized credentials, the Chamber believes this bill represents a commonsense approach to ensuring students don’t inadvertently leave opportunity on the table. A similar bill, though with less explicit opt-out language, passed the House last year before stalling in the Senate. We are cautiously optimistic that the measure will become law in 2020.

House Bill 1419 (Governor’s Workforce Cabinet), authored by Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis), passed the House 92-1. The measure adds members to the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, including a representative from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and requires the cabinet to work with stakeholders from early learning through the workforce. The Chamber supported the bill’s intent to better align Indiana’s education and workforce systems and to give more key stakeholders – including educators and business community advocates – a seat at the table. As Rep. Behning noted in his testimony on the bill, this more inclusive approach might have helped build broader support for well-intentioned policies like the career-focused teacher training requirement noted above and headed off the misinformation-fueled backlash that resulted in that particular policy being overturned less than a year after it was established. In any case, the proposed changes to the cabinet’s composition and mission seem well timed with the federal waiver enabling the cabinet’s current structure set to expire this summer and the Governor’s upcoming appointment of Indiana’s first secretary of education in 2021.

House Bill 1009 (Various Welfare Matters), authored by Rep. Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville) passed the House 94-0. Supported by the Chamber, the measure provides that money earned by a student participating in a paid internship or related work-based learning experience does not impact the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits received by the student’s family. The Chamber believes work-based learning is a key strategy in strengthening Indiana’s talent pipeline and supports removing barriers that could prevent students from engaging in these meaningful experiences.

House Bill 1082 (Various Higher Education Matters), authored by Rep. Robert Heaton (R-Terre Haute), passed the House 97-0. Supported by the Chamber, the measure makes a number of technical changes to state financial aid programs, including increased flexibility that enables students eligible for the EARN Indiana work-study program to participate in full-time internship opportunities during the summer term.

Resource: Jason Bearce at (317) 264-6880 or email: 
[email protected]