State Board of Education members talk 2015 legislative priorities

State Board of Education members said Thursday that defining the board’s authority in relation to the Department of Education should be a top priority for the Indiana General Assembly’s 2015 ?legislative session.

The SBOE Strategic Planning Committee convened to discuss legislation recommendations for 2015, which will be voted on when the full board convenes Dec. 3. Teacher evaluations and stakeholder engagement will be voted on as well.

The SBOE used to be part of the Department of Education but has been overseen by the Center for Education and Career Innovation since ?August 2013.

Since then, board members have had several conflicts with State Superintendent for Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, including Ritz suing the board for allegedly violating Indiana’s Open Door Law last year when it collectively emailed Indiana legislators about the state A to F grading system without giving public notice of the digital meeting.

Her complaint was not brought to court, by order of Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

“It’s been a frustrating year for the board, and I think there’s an opportunity for legislative changes,” board ?member Brad Oliver said.

Both Oliver and board member David Freitas said they would like the Indiana General Assembly to clearly define the legislative role of the SBOE and the alignment between the statehouse, the school board and the DOE.

In particular, Oliver said he’s interested in legislation to clarify board access to DOE data so the board can better understand what schools need more funding or help from state agencies.

“I would propose an area of legislation around the data, both financial and ?achievement,” he said.

The four-member committee also said it wants to prioritize Indiana’s new pre-K program, which will launch a pilot in five Indiana counties in January. The program will provide preschool scholarships for 4-year-olds from low-income families.

“We do have a need in this state for high-quality preschool,” Oliver said. “I know we have a pilot, but I would like the board to commit to keeping that out front.”

There was recent controversy in the Indiana education system when it was revealed that Gov. Mike Pence’s office did not apply for an $80 million federal grant for pre-kindergarten funding. Indiana was one of two states qualified to apply for the grant.

The board asked Claire Fiddian-Green, special assistant to the governor for education innovation, to clarify the situation. Fiddian-Green said the grant was actually meant to provide $20 million per year for four years. Only the first year had been approved.

Committee chairman Gordon Hendry said the pre-K scholarships could provide chances for parents who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on preschool care.

The state is now looking for preschool providers to participate in the program.

“I think we want to hear also about other states, their success, but also where they had challenges,” Hendry said. “We’re behind, certainly, but I think we can learn.”

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