INDIANAPOLIS — Hancock County children could return to school from summer break later under legislation being considered at the Statehouse that would regulate school calendars.
More than 300 bills were filed in the first few days of 2017’s meeting of the Indiana General Assembly, and more than a dozen — including pushing back the start of school — revolve around education.
Here’s a look at some of the proposals that could impact Hancock County schools and families:
School start dates
A bill proposed by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, would prohibit schools from beginning the school year before the fourth Monday in August.
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Now, many schools across the state, including all four Hancock County school districts, operate on balanced calendars, beginning school either in late July or the first week of August. The calendar results in a shorter summer than what students had in the past but allows for longer breaks throughout the year.
Educators have said the balanced calendar allows them to have more instruction time to prepare for standardized tests, which are given during the spring.
The bill has been assigned to the education and career development Senate committee, where lawmakers will decide whether it moves forward.
Paying for prekindergarten
Lawmakers this year are expected to expand the state-funded prekindergarten program to give more students an opportunity to prepare for kindergarten.
Senate Bill 276 seeks to expand the state’s prekindergarten pilot program — which currently provides grants to low-income families to help cover the cost of enrolling their children in prekindergarten — from five counties to 10.
The program already serves low-income families in Marion, Lake, Jackson, Allen and Vanderburgh counties.
The bill, which has been assigned to the Senate’s education and career development committee, where it will first be considered, doesn’t specify where the program would expand, but it creates a prekindergarten pilot program fund, funneling $40 million over two years from the state’s general fund into the account.
Senate Bill 34 would require Indiana educators to undergo a criminal history check more often.
Now, state law requires school employees to undergo a background check only when they’re hired. The bill would require employees to get a new background check every five years.
It also requires schools to run employee information through the Child Protection Index, the Department of Child Service’s registry of child abuse, once every five years.
Schools won’t foot the bill for the background checks — employees will be responsible for paying the cost, about $40 each time.
Another proposal would remove the mandatory link between student test scores and teacher reviews.
A law proposed by Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, would allow teacher evaluations to exclude how their students performed on standardized tests such as the ISTEP.
Now, schools must include objective measures of student achievement, or test scores, in teacher evaluations, with student scores accounting for 5 to 50 percent of the teacher’s overall evaluation. It’s a requirement many educators disagree with, and the bill would make that requirement optional.
Eliminating the link has been a proposal Republican lawmakers have rejected in the past, but new State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has said she’d support such legislation, meaning it could gain support needed to become law from Republicans this year.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s education and career development committee.
There are several ways Hoosiers can get involved in the legislative process.
1. Watch the action unfold. Committee meetings, where legislation is first hashed out, and House and Senate meetings are recorded. You can watch the videos by visiting in.gov/legislative and clicking on the “watch live” link on the right side of the page. Busy when the meeting is happening? Most videos are archived.
2. Call your lawmakers. Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, represents all of Hancock County. He can be at 800-382-9467. Rep. Robert Cherry, R-Greenfield, represents a large portion of Hancock County. He can be reached at 800-382-9841.
3. Testify at a committee meeting. Legislation is first heard by House and Senate committees, in which lawmakers hear the bill and amend language to move it forward. The public is invited to testify during those hearings; just show up on the day the bill is slated to be heard. To find the committee schedule, visit in.gov/legislative. Click the “committees” tab on the home page.
Finding a way to improve Hoosier roads is also a priority for lawmakers this legislative session.
Indiana Republicans are eyeing increases on taxes and the fees motorists pay to drive as a way to fund sorely needed infrastructure improvements across the state.
House Bill 1002 is a continuation of a plan pushed by Republicans the past few years as lawmakers search for ways to funnel more money into Indiana’s roads while protecting the state’s $2 billion surplus from being tapped.
A proposal unveiled last week by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who represents a small portion of Hancock County, would increase the cost of gas at the pump by 10 cents per gallon, while requiring vehicle owners to pay an additional $15 a year in car registration fees.
It would also make it easier for local governments to raise money for infrastructure by allowing more small towns to impose local vehicle registration taxes.
Local lawmakers are expected to help shape road funding legislation over the next three months.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Transportation committee, said he’s looking forward to digging into the issue and weighing what’s best for the state as well as local communities, which also need additional funding.