A group of Indiana lawmakers on Monday approved recommendations for multiple education bills expected to be filed during the 2023 legislative session — but dropped a controversial proposal at the last minute.
The bipartisan interim education committee approved its report unanimously after hearing testimony last week from education advocates, school officials and business leaders. Many called for legislators to reduce regulatory requirements to help alleviate the teacher shortage and reduce burdens on educators and schools.
The proposals include changes to class curricula, the creation of more work-based learning experiences, and streamlining how schools report certain data to the state.
Teacher discussion law change removed, for now
In contention, however, was a policy recommendation that would redefine what school and district leadership are required to discuss with teachers.
The recommendation specifically sought to redefine Indiana’s discussion law, as well as topics required to be discussed with teachers through their local union representative. The change could limit teachers from raising concerns and discussing with their superiors issues relating to class sizes, student discipline, working and learning conditions, and student-teacher ratios.
Such discussions are commonplace for teachers throughout the school year and required under current Indiana law.
Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said in committee discussion that she and her Democratic colleagues were concerned about the implications of the recommendation and a lack of prior discussion about the proposal.
Changes to the law were previously floated by the Indiana School Board Association, as well as by the Indiana Small Schools Association.
To advance the report, committee chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, compromised by removing the language from the report.
“But this does not preclude us from having this discussion during session,” Behning said Monday. “It just says (this item) won’t be in the report.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association, the largest teachers union in Indiana, maintained Monday that it will “fight and oppose any changes to Indiana’s discussion laws,” adding that lawmakers should instead focus on “empowering teachers to fight on behalf of their students and profession, particularly now more than ever.”
Integrating financial literacy
Lawmakers also green-lit a recommendation to adopt a policy that would integrate financial literacy curriculum into certain math courses. The goal is to enhance financial literacy at the K-12 level and “increase the relevancy of math coursework,” according to the report.
Yoder said that enhancing student financial literacy “is important,” but emphasized that teachers are already tasked with helping students improve learning gaps and lower test scores as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My only concern is putting this on as a recommendation at a time when I would imagine math educators are scrambling to figure out how they’re going to fill this gap,” she said, noting ongoing deficiencies in standardized test scores for math. “I would hate to see us doing something that would add to our math educators’ workload or expectations when really, we need them to be all hands on deck, 100% focusing on raising our students’ math test scores across the board in Indiana.”
Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, added that while he supports “the intent” of the recommendation, he doesn’t want the idea to evolve into an “additional mandate.”
Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, said integrating some form of financial literacy could make math problems “more meaningful” and show students “what you can do with math.”
“But I think it’s important enough that at some point, before our kids graduate, they should have a full-blown financial literacy course,” he said. “I just don’t think you can do it justice by kind of tacking it onto the program.”
The committee also seeks to repeal the annual school corporation performance report, essentially replacing it with data now being collected within the state’s new Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed (GPS) dashboard that will go live this fall.
Additionally, lawmakers said they’re committed to helping more students increase their educational attainment outside of the traditional classroom.
To better prepare students to “thrive” after high school — and increase the lagging number of Hoosier students who go on to college or obtain other certifications — lawmakers said they’re additionally committed to finding ways to provide diploma flexibility so that a student’s high school experience can be tailored to their “unique needs and interests.”
That includes ensuring high schools, colleges and adult education providers “consistently collect and reflect” work-based experiences on student transcripts.
Doing so will also involve working with the Department of Workforce Development to require employers to report the number of students they have employed doing work-based learning by using the state’s unemployment insurance reporting system, according to the committee report.
Last week, an analysis presented by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce indicated that work-based learning opportunities like internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing and service-oriented experiences are in high demand by Indiana learners.
Certain barriers currently inhibit many Hoosiers from accessing such opportunities, however. That includes transportation needs, equity challenges, employer budgets and students’ ability to also balance coursework and extracurriculars.
The Indiana Chamber recommended the creation of statewide standards for such work-based learning experiences, as well as a state-funded repository of work-based learning policies, resources and available opportunities that would host such information in one place.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.