Indiana Legislature outlines goals for education in 2023

Spending more on schools and making high school more relevant are top priorities for Indiana lawmakers heading into the 2023 session, lawmakers said Monday.

At a preview event with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Democratic and Republican leaders highlighted proposals for graduate students who are job-ready and willing to stay in Indiana as the state grapples with declining college enrollments and the academic impact has the pandemic.

But GOP leaders remained essentially on whether they would revisit last year’s unsuccessful curriculum law that attempted to limit teachers’ statements about race and racism.

Republicans, who hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, will seek more work-based learning in high school. Democrats, meanwhile, stressed the need for the state to improve its educational performance, starting with early learning.

The legislative period begins in January. The ceremonial start of the session – known as Organization Day – is on November 22, when representatives can start filing bills. Here are the educational topics to pay attention to at the beginning of the session.

Rethinking what high school looks like

Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said a top priority for House Republicans is to “reinvent” high school so students can work and pursue career-related opportunities to earn graduation credit.

“We have to adapt to a new economy,” Huston said. The current high school structure prioritizes higher education over other post-secondary paths, he added.

Huston said details of the plan would be laid out later, but hinted courses like calculus could be replaced with work-based learning.

Indiana is already in the midst of a major overhaul of its K-12 standards after a law passed last year required the state Department of Education to streamline what students need to know to be successful. The department aims to seek input from industry, employers and academic institutions to create these new standards.

Increase funding for K-12 schools

Heading into a fiscal year, Huston also said he expects lawmakers to approve an increase in K-12 funding “while expanding opportunities for children to attend the school of their choice.”

“I feel good about the amount we’re putting into education,” he said.

In 2021, lawmakers approved a $1.9 billion increase for schools, allowing many to raise salaries for teachers who had gathered en masse at the statehouse. (Indiana adopts biennial budgets.)

Earlier this year calls have been received from school districts to invest more in the funding schools receive to educate students living in poverty — sometimes referred to as complexity funding.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said at a recent State Board of Education meeting that increasing funding for English learners was a priority after the state reported double-digit declines in test scores for this group this year.

Expand childcare by reducing regulations

The Chamber of Commerce listed improving access to childcare and early childhood education in Indiana as one of its top legislative priorities.

“The lack of affordable, quality child care across Indiana is one of the external factors most negatively impacting employee recruitment and retention,” the chamber said in a statement.

To this end, the Chamber proposes tightening existing state regulations outside of occupational health and safety and offering incentives for providers to improve the quality of their offerings.

Huston said reviewing licensing requirements could be a step towards creating more child care providers in the state.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said lawmakers have balked at other ideas that could increase access to early education, such as offering a child care tax credit or lowering the age for compulsory school attendance in Indiana from seven to five.

No “peculiarities” to another curriculum law

Some education observers are expecting another version of last year’s Curriculum Act, which will address how teachers address racial issues. But Huston said during the press conference that he hadn’t heard “details” about another attempt.

He added that his caucus “supports the right of families to choose the schools” their children attend.

However, Huston told reporters he would support another idea from the last legislature: a bill to make school board elections partisan. Last year’s bill on the issue, which would have required votes to include the party affiliation of school board candidates, drew significant criticism and died in committee.

During the preview event, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said he hoped lawmakers would “give social issues a break in this session” after discussing contentious issues like abortion rights in 2022 were addressed.

“It doesn’t do our state any good to be in the national news on these issues,” GiaQuinta said.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana’s education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at [email protected]