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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Here are the education bills approved by the 2024 Indiana legislature

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By ALEKSANDRA APPLETON

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The 2024 legislative session in Indiana adjourned late on Friday, March 8. The Indiana Capitol building in Indianapolis is shown in November 2023. (Photo/Elaine Cromie-Chalkbeat)

Stricter rules on school attendance, reading proficiency, and cellphone use in the classroom will affect Indiana students and schools beginning next year under legislation passed in the General Assembly’s 2024 session.

Lawmakers wrapped the session late Friday, nearly a week earlier than their deadline, after spending hours negotiating bills in bipartisan, bicameral conference committees charged with hashing out versions of bills agreeable to both chambers.

Lawmakers hinted that a dramatic overhaul of school voucher funding may be coming next year, when they take up budget proposals. They took a step in that direction this year by expanding access to Education Savings Accounts — a type of voucher funding for students with disabilities — to the siblings of students who have the accounts.

And while some lawmakers hoped for a session free of controversial social issues, the legislature passed a bill aimed at universities’ diversity practices that sparked anger among students and faculty.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has seven days to sign legislation once it lands on his desk. If he does not sign a bill, it still passes into law. If he vetoes a piece of legislation, the legislature can override the veto with a majority vote in both houses.

Here are the bills that passed the statehouse this year and now await action by the governor:

Bills address reading, cellphone bans, and college tenure

Senate Bill 1 tightens the state’s policy for holding back and remediating young children who don’t demonstrate reading proficiency by third grade, unless they meet one of a few exceptions. Amendments to the bill created a policy for parents to appeal a remediation recommendation.

Addressing students’ declining reading skills was the top priority of the GOP supermajority. While proponents of the bill hope that few students are held back, schools are bracing for more students in third grade classrooms. Advocates for English learners warn that the state could run afoul of federal law by retaining students only for a lack of English proficiency.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 6, a companion bill, would require the Indiana Department of Education to identify older students who don’t read proficiently.

Senate Bill 185 requires school districts to adopt policies banning communication devices like cellphones from the classroom. The policies must include exceptions for emergencies, health needs, and cellphone use at the direction of a teacher or under an individualized education program.

Senate Bill 202, the most controversial bill of the 2024 session, makes many changes to colleges’ tenure, promotion, and diversity policies.

It would prohibit colleges from offering tenure to or promoting faculty who have failed to expose students to a variety of political or ideological frameworks, and create complaint procedures aimed at professors who have shared political opinions unrelated to their academic discipline. It would also compel colleges to consider “intellectual diversity” in policies alongside cultural diversity. An amendment removed part of the bill that changed the makeup of university boards.

The bill’s author, Sen. Spencer Deery, said it would help more conservative students feel comfortable on university campuses, pointing to Indiana’s declining college-going rate as one measure that they currently do not.

Critics said the bill would stifle classroom discussion and force professors to teach false information in order to comply, and ultimately lead to a brain drain in the state as faculty leave Indiana or refuse to teach here.

Education-related bills significantly changed during session

Several education-related bills passed after going through multiple changes as they moved through the legislature, though some reverted to their original language after negotiations in conference committees. Among them:

House Bill 1002 codifies a definition of antisemitism and prohibits religious discrimination at the state’s schools. The bill passed the House with a definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which the Senate removed. In a compromise, the conference committee kept the definition but left out the contemporary examples of antisemitism that the alliance includes.

House Bill 1137 requires principals to allow a student to leave for off-campus religious instruction. The bill saw many changes throughout session, including a House amendment that would have recognized Indiana students and schools for civic excellence. The Senate removed that amendment and instead added language allowing chaplains to work in public schools. A conference committee removed the chaplains provision, returning the bill to its original form.

Senate Bill 211 establishes an excellence in civics education designation for students and schools. A conference committee removed several House amendments that would have subjected charter schools to open-records law, established an internet safety curriculum, and allowed school employees to remove disruptive students from the classroom.

House Bill 1001 allows siblings of students who have Education Scholarship Accounts — a type of school choice program for students with disabilities — to qualify for their own ESA. The bill, originally intended to modify last year’s law on Career Scholarship Accounts, also allows students to use Career Scholarship Accounts to obtain their driver’s licenses.

Senate Bill 282 establishes truancy prevention policies requiring schools to meet with parents of chronically absent students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and establish plans and wraparound services to improve attendance. The bill also requires school officials to report truant students to the prosecutor’s office, and requires prosecutors to take legal action against parents of students who are habitually truant.

House lawmakers removed a provision to study chronic absenteeism among older students in a summer committee.

They also amended the bill to include a provision that truant students couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities, and one allowing schools to bar parents from campuses for making multiple unsubstantiated claims against teachers. But those changes were removed by a conference committee.

Bills that make smaller changes to education with big impacts

House Bill 1104 lays out requirements for schools’ armed intruder drills, including that students can’t be subject to drills that include sensory components, like simulations of gunfire.

House Bill 1243 enacts numerous education policy changes, including:

  • Requiring the State Board of Education to establish a new standard Indiana diploma to replace the existing ones by October 2028.
  • Establishing curriculum requirements for computer science and compelling the Department of Education to approve curriculum for internet safety.
  • Extending the personal finance curriculum to 8th graders.
  • Requiring school districts to adopt a policy on habitually truant students participating in extracurricular activities, though the bill doesn’t specify what those policies should be.
  • Specifying that literacy achievement grants are not subject to collective bargaining.
  • Creating professional development and curricular resources for mathematics.

House Bill 1380 also includes a number of policy changes:

  • Prohibiting schools from charging a fee for out-of-district transfer students.
  • Expanding the Indiana Learns program that gives students up to $1,000 for tutoring beyond 2026.
  • Requiring that Innovation Network schools receive 100% of their state tuition support dollars, and prohibiting school districts from charging them above a certain amount for goods and services.
  • Directing the Department of Education to establish pilot programs on student transportation and school facilities.
  • Requiring universities to publicize information about hazing incidents.
  • Requiring the Commission on Seclusion and Restraint to meet twice a year and adopt a policy requiring schools to minimize or eliminate the use of time-outs.

Senate Bill 270 would clarify that school districts must close underutilized buildings and make them available to charter schools for $1.

Senate Bill 48 originally would have required colleges to compile information about jobs and pay related to the degrees they offer. But when colleges reported that they already have much of this information, lawmakers amended the bill to require schools to prominently post links to it instead.

Senate Bill 8 would require all high schools to offer the College Core, a certificate earned by completing a set of coursework that’s recognized by all Indiana public colleges. It would also require colleges and universities to explore the possibilities of conferring associate degrees and offering three-year degree programs.

School-related bills that didn’t pass

Several bills passed one chamber of the legislature but didn’t make it through the other.

Senate Bill 128 would’ve required schools to seek school board approval for their sex education curriculum, and publicize the materials, plus information about who teaches the courses and when.

Senate Bill 287 would’ve required schools to teach cursive writing.

Senate Bill 50 would’ve permitted chaplains to serve in public schools as counselors.

Senate Bill 214 would’ve required schools to post links to mental health resources for students, and Senate Bill 141 would’ve required counselors to spend a certain amount of time providing services to students.

House Bill 1073 would’ve required schools to install video cameras in special education classrooms, and allowed parents to review recordings in certain situations. Some provisions of this bill regarding seclusion and restraint were added to House Bill 1380.

House Bill 1304 would’ve created a mastery-based education program, along with a number of other policy changes that were inserted into House Bill 1243.

House Bill 1376 would’ve restricted school referendums to general elections or municipal elections only.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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