Unfunded and increasing training mandates for teachers in recent years have been a growing concern for schools, but bills before the Indiana General Assembly would provide greater flexibility and ease what some describe as over-regulation.

By law, Indiana teachers require regular training in such areas as suicide prevention, child abuse and neglect, CPR, bullying prevention, human trafficking and others.

House  Bill 1003 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/house/1003), authored by Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen says the Indiana State Board of Education “shall determine the timing, frequency, and method of certain teacher training requirements,” including whether it should be part of license renewal or a teacher preparation program — as opposed to required annual training.

State Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, believes the bill “is a really good idea that shifts responsibility away from the General Assembly — hopefully to school corporations, where they can decide when and how to train their teachers on all the mandates that have been passed down.”

As a Vigo County School Corp. teacher, Pfaff is required to participate in many of those trainings.

The bill was discussed for more than two hours in Wednesday’s House Education Committee; it will be amended and revisited at the Jan. 22 committee meeting. “It’s still a work in progress,” she said.

State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), who chairs the House Education Committee, said the goal is “to reduce the amount of training requirements for teachers and to lift mandates for schools so they have the flexibility to focus on what they think is most important for kids.”

The same bill also would allow the state Board of Education to grant waivers to districts from certain laws or rules, although the Indiana Department of Education would have to issue an annual report to the General Assembly.

In addition, the bill would make optional a 15-hour workforce training mandate or externship, passed last year as a requirement for teacher license renewal. Last year’s mandate drew much criticism from educators.

The Indiana State Teachers Association opposes the bill in its current draft, said Kim Clements-Johnson, ISTA director of public affairs. ISTA says the bill would allow schools to apply to the State Board for waivers from a wide range of education laws.

“There are some positive provisions in the bill that we would support, such as changing the Professional Growth Point requirement [externships] to a may provision and the possible reduction of teacher training requirements,” Clements-Johnson said. But ISTA has “significant concerns” related to a provision that “would allow any school to waive almost any statute in Title 20 or 511 [Indiana Administrative Code] by applying to the State Board of Education. Laws enacted in the past several legislative sessions have granted this waiver ability to specified qualifying schools. This bill opens the floodgates statewide.”

The Indiana School Boards Association supports changes that provide greater flexibility and deregulation, said Terry Spradlin, executive director, who spoke at the hearing.

“We have had all these different laws passed about required training of teachers, including bullying prevention, human trafficking and concussion protocol,” Spradlin said. Under HB 1003, the state Board of Education would determine and give guidance to the state DOE.

“Some of the training may become cyclical, once every five years in concert with license renewal, instead of annual requirements,” Spradlin said.

“We like that approach,” Spradlin said. Currently, with all the required trainings — on top of a teacher’s regular duties —”there is not enough time in the day and the school year ... and there is some cost associated with those trainings for both the school corporations and sometimes for the individual teacher.”

ISBA wants to work with the legislature “to change the climate from a heavily-regulated policy environment for public schools to a deregulated environment that restores local control to school boards and educators,” he said.

Still another provision of the bill eliminates the requirement that an annual performance report for a school corporation be published in a newspaper.

According to Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, Rep. Jordan has indicated “it was a coin-flip on whether he would amend the publication of the annual school performance language out of the bill,” Key stated in an email.

On the senate side, State Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, has authored a bill [SB 266 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/266)] that would require the Department of Education to evaluate teacher training requirements in Indiana. The bill also calls for DOE to prepare a report that includes recommendations for streamlining, combining and reducing teacher training requirements.

The report would be submitted to the General Assembly by Oct. 1.

Hold harmless full speed ahead

Legislation making rapid progress, as expected, in both the House and Senate relates to “hold harmless” that would prevent 2019 and 2020 ILEARN test results from negatively affecting schools’ accountability grades and teacher evaluations. The legislation — HB 1001 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/house/1001) and SB 2 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/2) — is a high priority for both educators and legislators.

House  Bill 1002 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/house/1002) would remove the requirement that a teacher’s evaluation be based in part on annual, standardized tests, but the Senate does not have a similar version of the bill, Behning said. The House bill would let school districts decide whether to use state testing for teacher evaluations. It passed the House 100-0 and has been referred to the Senate.

Pfaff believes the Red for Ed rally in November has had an impact. Based on how quickly 1001 and 1002 were acted upon, “They have definitely heard part of the demands of teachers.”

Teacher pay

Teachers are strongly advocating for improved pay this session, although it appears unlikely. Democrats have called on the state to spend some of its cash reserve, but it appears Republicans will not tackle the issue in the short session.

“Hoosier teachers aren’t paid as professionals,” said Kim Fidler, Indiana State Teachers Association representative who works with Vigo and other area schools. “Even with the largest increase in public school funding in a decade [last year], Indiana teacher salaries lag our neighboring states, and too many school districts will see little or no increase, while some will see more cuts.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb offered a proposal to increase teacher pay, but it won’t be considered until the 2021 session.

On Tuesday, during his State of the State address, he recommended the General Assembly use $250 million from the surplus in the next budget to prepay the state’s obligations to the teachers’ retirement fund, which will allow $50 million a year to be redirected to teacher pay.

The governor wants to wait for recommendations and a “sustainable plan” from a teacher pay commission; those recommendations are expected later this year.

Democratic leaders have pushed for an immediate pay increase.

Another priority this session, according to Behning, is HB 1153 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/house/1153), which say the governor’s workforce cabinet shall, on or before Dec. 1, 2020, create a comprehensive plan to ensure alignment of Indiana’s primary, secondary, and postsecondary education systems with Indiana’s workforce training programs and employer needs.

Other bills

The Indiana School Boards Association is currently tracking more than 150 bills affecting K-12 public education or other child-related bills, Spradlin said.

ISBA continues to have concerns about the number of bills being filed and laws passed affecting public education, which suggests a top-down approach to delivery of K-12 public education, Spradlin has said.

The legislature has enacted 85 new K-12 or child-related bills that schools have had to comply with in just the last two years, Spradlin said.

Behning indicated that with the short session — scheduled to end by mid-March — many House education bills will not get a hearing.

Others bills filed on the Senate side that may, or may not, advance include:

• State Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, has filed a bill (SB 270 http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/270) on collective bargaining that would restore work hours as bargainable and make working conditions and student learning discussable. It also would improve the definition of deficit financing for purposes of determining the amount of money that is available for teacher contracts.

Ford said ISTA approached him about filing the bill. “The goal is to restore some of those issues,” which Ford said he supports. Some provisions of his bill are now in other bills.

• SB 94 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/94) Would provide an income tax credit for donations to a public school foundation or school corporation. The maximum individual taxpayer credit would be $1,000 for a single return and $2,000 for a joint return. The maximum corporate taxpayer credit is the greater of 10% of the corporation’s total adjusted gross income tax liability or $10,000.

• Once again, State Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, has authored a bill requiring each school corporation, charter school, and accredited nonpublic elementary school to include cursive writing in its curriculum.

• Another bill, SB 82 (http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2020/bills/senate/82) authored by State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, would prohibit polling places in schools after Dec. 31, 2023.

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