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The Indiana Daily Student

politics education

Here’s what to know about the Indiana Senate’s upcoming education legislation

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It’s a busy legislative session for education, with over 70 education-related bills facing the Indiana General Assembly. Indiana’s short legislative session began Jan. 8, and education is a major priority this legislative session: Both Republicans and Democrats have noted education-based issues like reading proficiency in their 2024 legislative priorities. 

The next week includes several legislative deadlines. Bills in the House must have committee hearings by Jan. 30, and bills in the Senate by Feb. 1. After that, House bills must have their third reading in the House by Feb. 5, and Senate bills face the same deadline in the Senate Feb. 6. 

Over 70 education-related bills have been heard between the Indiana House and Senate during the session. Here’s where a few stand: 

Senate Bill 1: Reading skills 

One of this session’s biggest and most controversial bills, Senate Bill 1 would require schools to hold back third grade students who do not pass reading assessments like IREAD or meet certain “good cause” exemptions.  

The number of Indiana students who cannot read by the end of third grade has doubled since 2012, but retention rates for these students have been dropping, according to the Department of Education. The bill would create a stronger definition of retention, according to Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner. 

If students do not pass IREAD, they would be held back unless they qualify for a good cause exemption. These exemptions may be made if a third grade student has already been retained once, if they have an intellectual disability, if they have been learning English for two years or less, or if they demonstrate proficiency in math assessments. 

The bill would also require second grade students to take IREAD, so schools can provide support or refer struggling students to summer school. Currently, only third grade students or students who have to retest have to take the state reading assessment. 

Senate Bill 1 passed its second reading before the full Senate Monday and will now move to the House. Three amendments were added — changing requirements for school reporting, allowing retentions to be appealed and requiring parent notification. 

Senate Bill 50: Chaplains in public schools 

Senate Bill 50 would allow Indiana public and charter schools to hire a chaplain, raising questions for many about religious freedom. According to the bill, school chaplains would have to hold a master's degree in divinity, theology, religious studies, or a related field and would need at least two years of counseling experience.  

Under the bill, chaplains would provide advice, guidance and support services, and they would have privileged communications with students, like a counselor or doctor. They would hold a secular role unless students or parents gave permission for religious support.  

The ACLU of Indiana put out a statement in opposition to SB 50. 

“The primary role of chaplains is to provide pastoral or religious counseling to people in spiritual need,” the statement read. Allowing them to assume official positions — whether paid or voluntary — in public schools will create an environment ripe for religious coercion and indoctrination of students.” 

Bloomington Senator Shelli Yoder, the Senate Democratic Leader, introduced amendments attempting to clarify the instruction chaplains could provide, requiring chaplains to report abuse and neglect as counselors do and specify consent wording. All three amendments were voted down. 

“Our kids deserve a real solution to the counselor shortage. This anti-religious-freedom bill violates parental rights, is a complete one-eighty to all the talk about protecting parental rights just last year, and exposes our students to potential harm,” a portion of Yoder’s statement reads. 

Senate Bill 50 faced second reading before the full Senate Jan. 29. A coauthor was added but no changes were made. 

House Bill 1137: Civics education and religious instruction 

Similarly, under House Bill 1137, public school principals would be required to let students leave for religious education — conducted by a church or other religious instruction organization — for up to two hours per week. The bill amends Indiana Code 20-33-2-19; before, a student’s release was based on the principal’s decision. Now, as long as the student is in “good academic standing,” they’ll have to be released. 

Religious education is required to be conducted off-school grounds and private transportation must be provided. 

House Bill 1137 passed the second reading before the full House Jan. 29, and will now head to the Senate.  

Senate Bill 145: Tax credit for charter school contribution 

Under Senate Bill 145, donors to charter schools could receive a tax credit of up to 50% of their charitable contributions in that year. Charter schools would be allowed to establish a fund for building projects and, provided it is registered with the department of state revenue, donors would receive the credit. 

Paul Farmer, MCEA president and MCCSC teacher, expressed his frustration with the bill at the MCCSC Board of Trustees’ January regular meeting.  

“MCCS Foundation have been trying for years to get tax credits,” Farmer said at the meeting. “Nope, can't do it, can't do it. Guess what? Tax credits for charter schools is coming up.” 

Senate Bill 145 was sent to the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy Jan. 8. 

House Bill 1020: Teacher licensing requirements 

House Bill 1020 would reduce teacher licensing requirements. If it passes, teachers will no longer have to pass pedagogy examinations, amending Indiana Code 20-28-3-1.  

They would still have to prove proficiency in area knowledge and, for would-be elementary school teachers, demonstrate they can teach last year’s state-law mandated “science of reading” curriculum. 

House Bill 1020 was sent to the House Committee on Education Jan. 8. 

House Bill 1376: Election day for school referenda 

House Bill 1376 clarifies referendum language, leading to new requirements. Education referendums would only be allowed on general election ballots, so cities could no longer hold special elections for referendums.  

Referendums have historically been a major source of change for MCCSC schools. Going back to 2010, Monroe County’s education referendums have increased teacher salaries, provided programming funding and supported programs like early childhood education. 

In 2023, a MCCSC referendum increasing property taxes narrowly passed by 108 votes. Referendum tax increase funds will help cover early childhood education, instructional materials, access to technology and testing fees. 

House Bill 1376 faced its third reading in front of the full House Jan. 29, but was returned to second reading. 

House Bill 1037: Minimum teacher salaries 

House Bill 1037 would raise teachers’ minimum salary from $40,000 per year to $60,000 per year. If school corporations cannot do that, districts will have to submit a report explaining why, including all fiscal challenges and cost-saving measures they have taken. 

It is unclear how much of an effect this will have. In 2023, only 180 of 290 reporting school districts met the minimum salary requirement of $40,000 or above, according to the bill’s fiscal report, and the report only states they expect to see more reports if this bill is passed, not that they necessarily expect higher salaries. 

Still, HB 1037 is the one bill which Ashley Pirani, MCCSC Board of Trustees legislative liaison, said was a "good one” at a board meeting Jan. 23.  

House Bill 1037 was referred to the House Committee on Education Jan. 8.

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