Education: Common Core, Career-Ready Standards Debates to Heat Up

(Above) Chamber Vice President Derek Redelman discusses the status of the state’s Common Core academic standards.

Additionally, the following is Redelman’s analysis of SB 91 (authored by Sen. Scott Schneider) on education standards:

As amended, SB 91 re-establishes guidelines for the review and adoption of state standards that is currently underway at the State Board of Education and is expected to be completed prior to July 1. It voids current state standards (Common Core) on July 1. It also eliminates restrictions on the State Board of Education in the development of a new state assessment system to be aligned with the new state standards, and requires the assessment plan developed by the State Board to be reviewed by the State Budget Committee.

Chamber Position: Neutral

Status: Amended and passed by the House Education Committee; now eligible for consideration by the full House.

Update/Chamber Action: As reported here previously, this bill does little other than allowing the standards review, currently ongoing with the State Board of Education, to continue. Yet, the continued rhetoric of Common Core opponents – suggesting for unexplained reasons that this bill somehow bans Common Core in Indiana – is likely a precursor of much more debate to come.

That debate now shifts to the draft math and English standards that were released this week and will now be the subject of public hearings, a month-long public comment period and likely more.

The Indiana Chamber is conducting a review of the draft standards and will share the results in coming days. As many people have anticipated, the draft standards contain a lot of components that are identical to Indiana’s current standards, which are the Common Core State Standards.

Opponents of the Common Core, including Sen. Schneider, have spent much of the last two weeks pronouncing that such an outcome would be an “outrage” and “unacceptable.” They’ve even spent time reviewing the credentials of those involved with the current review and have suggested that too many of these standards and curriculum experts have already shown support for Common Core.

Meanwhile, the closest that Common Core opponents have come to suggesting alternative standards has been their stated preference for Indiana’s 2009 standards, which were drafted but never adopted.

The incredible irony of that position is that Indiana’s 2009 draft standards were used as a primary model in the development of the Common Core State Standards. So if Common Core opponents continue to insist that the new standards cannot look in any way like Common Core, then it will also be impossible for the standards to look like Indiana’s 2009 standards, which Common Core opponents have touted!

But alas, this has been the nature of Indiana’s Common Core debates to date; all indications of the last two weeks suggest that those debates will continue with intensity throughout the next month. Public hearings on the draft standards will occur Monday in Sellersburg, Tuesday in Indianapolis and Wednesday in Plymouth. Online public comment will also continue through mid-March. And if all goes as planned, then the State Board of Education will be presented with new standards to adopt at its April meeting. We certainly look forward to the approach of that long-awaited conclusion – yet we know full well that there is much more still to come in these debates.

Chamber’s Top Legislative Priorities in 2014

Eliminating business personal property tax, allowing employers to screen prospective hires for tobacco use and establishing a work share program are among the top legislative priorities for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

“In many categories of commercial and industrial property tax, Indiana is among the very highest states in the country. That’s largely due to our taxing of machinery and equipment. It’s a remaining black mark on our tax climate – an area where we simply can’t compete,” declares Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“All of our surrounding states have done away with the tax except for Kentucky, which taxes personal property at a lower rate than Indiana. It’s past time to remove this burden that can greatly hinder business expansion and innovation.”

On the health care front, the Indiana Chamber is seeking to repeal what is termed the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees.

“This is an intrusion into the rights of employers in making hiring decisions. Holding smoking up to the same standards as we hold discrimination based upon race, gender, religion and ethnicity seems arbitrary and without justification,” Brinegar offers.

“There are other behaviors (such as substance abuse and having a criminal record) which are also personal choice and over which employers do have discretion in hiring decisions; this reinforces that the state’s protection for smokers is unnecessary and not well founded.”

One policy the Indiana Chamber believes would benefit employers, employees and the state is a work sharing initiative that would allow employers to maintain skilled, stable workforces during temporary economic downturns.

“Employers would be able to reduce hours without layoffs and provide unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours. Then when circumstances improve, employees could return to full-time work status for the company,” Brinegar explains.

“What’s more, a federal grant is available for three years to pay for the cost of the program. It’s a positive scenario for all parties.”

When it comes to K-12 education, Brinegar says the Indiana Chamber will continue to push for the absolute best academic standards for the state.

“That’s the bottom line. We need to improve student learning, meet the essential college- and career-ready requirement and have an appropriate student assessment system. Those elements all currently exist within the Common Core State Standards program, which we continue to fully support.”

Below are the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities. The complete list is also available on the Indiana Chamber web site (www.indianachamber.com).

CIVIL JUSTICE
Support regulating the practice of lawsuit lending, in which a third party provides a plaintiff a cash advance loan while the legal case is pending. In turn, a plaintiff agrees to repay the advance (which is usually at a high interest rate) from the lawsuit proceeds. This practice complicates the legal process by forcing more cases to go to trial because the plaintiffs can’t afford to settle due to their repayment agreement with the lender. In turn, this causes more and more Indiana businesses to pay expensive legal fees. This lending practice is legal in most states, but regulation and transparency do not exist in Indiana.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Support a voluntary vehicles miles travelled (VMT) pilot program as a potential replacement for existing fuel taxes. With Indiana’s already insufficient fuel tax revenues for roads/transportation trending down and more fuel efficient and electric/hybrid vehicles on the roads, a new funding mechanism for road maintenance needs to be found. Owners of alternative-fuel vehicles, including electrical vehicles, should pay for the roads they use just like other drivers. Voluntary VMT pilots in other states are currently taking place and Indiana cannot afford to ignore this potential road funding alternative.

Support expanding the patent-derived income tax exemption to the pre-patent phase. This incentive change would allow innovative, high-tech businesses that typically pay high wages to qualify during the earlier patent-pending phase of the (often long) patent application process, thus carrying forward any credit. Many emerging businesses would find this helpful in capitalizing their start-ups and expanding hiring. (Current law states you must have had a patent issued by the federal government before you can apply for the exemption.)

EDUCATION
Support maintaining high-achieving academic standards, such as the Common Core, and allowing the State Board of Education (SBOE) to determine student assessments. Indiana needs standards that improve student learning and meet the college- and career-ready requirement. The testing component of the standards can best be determined by the SBOE.
Support a framework for the future development of publicly-funded preschool initiatives for low-income families. There is critical need for improved preschool opportunities, especially for low-income children whose families may not have the means to provide a high-quality preschool experience or to provide needed learning opportunities in the home. The Indiana Chamber supports publicly-funded preschool programs that are: focused on those families in greatest need, limited to initiatives that maintain parental choice, focused on concrete learning outcomes and integrated with reforms at the elementary school level that will maintain and build upon the gains.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT
Support a water policy to stabilize our economic future and effectively compete with other states. A policy/plan is needed in order for the state to effectively manage its significant water resources, as well as to ensure delivery of an adequate, reliable and affordable supply of water.

HEALTH CARE
Support repealing the smokers’ bill of rights for prospective employees from the Indiana Code. The Indiana Chamber believes that all employers should have the right to choose whether or not to screen and/or hire prospective employees who use tobacco products. Since employers are footing most of the bill for health care costs for their employees, they should be able to have some discretion in determining whether new employees use tobacco products or not.

Support reinstating the wellness tax credit. The Indiana Chamber supports this incentive to start a wellness program, which can increase attendance, boost morale and productivity, as well as positively impact health care coverage costs.

LABOR RELATIONS
Support a work sharing program that will allow employers to maintain a skilled stable workforce during temporary downturns. Employers then could reduce hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs – which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. Also part of the equation: Unemployment compensation to partially compensate workers for their lost hours.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT    
Support common sense simplification and reforms to local government structures and practices. Creating the option for counties to have a single county commissioner and county councils with legislative and fiscal responsibilities is one that several Indiana counties desire. There should be incentives to reward local government efficiencies and performance in the delivery of services to taxpayers.

TAXATION
Support legislation to reduce the dependence on the taxation of business machinery and equipment. This tax discourages capital investment, places a disproportionate property tax burden on businesses and puts Indiana at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states that have eliminated it or are moving to do so.

Chamber Scores Hoosier Legislators on 2013 Voting Records

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce handed out scores today to all 150 state legislators for their voting records on pro-economy, pro-jobs legislation during the 2013 General Assembly. The numbers, released in the organization’s annual Legislative Vote Analysis, also contain a two-year total for each legislator.

The 2013 scores range from 44% to 100%. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-District 88 of Indianapolis), who votes at his discretion and therefore was scored on fewer bills, was the lone perfect mark. The highest full-time voting record for 2013 was Rep. Ed Clere (R-District 72 of New Albany) at 97%. The top senator was Joe Zakas (R-District 11 of Granger) at 87%. Last year, there were 15 legislators with 100%.

The reason for the slightly lower vote scores overall is the type of public policies on the docket, observes Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“The issues in 2013 were more complex and less partisan in nature. Two examples involved the Common Core academic standards and the ratepayer protection for the Rockport synthetic natural gas plant. Both were highly complicated – containing various provisions – and had significant supporters and opponents in both parties. This could very well be a sign of things to come.”

All scores and the full report are available at the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/lva.

Brinegar also points out that the Senate scores, on average, were notably lower than in recent years. “That happened because the Senate watered down several crucial bills or simply refused to move other pro-jobs bills altogether.

“What’s more, the gap between the top (87%) and bottom (60%) scores in the Senate was closer this year, as Democrat scores increased overall while Republicans went down,” he notes.

“All in all, however, it was another successful session for Hoosier businesses and their workers. Legislators, for the most part, voted to grow jobs and move our state forward – and the results show it.”

A total of 19 legislators also received a star designation for their significant efforts on issues deemed of critical importance or their overall leadership. Among them: Speaker Bosma and first-term House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-District 9 of Michigan City) who together championed the Indiana Career Council legislation.

Says Brinegar of Pelath: “He brought a breath of fresh air to the House and it was noticeable. From our perspective, things were much more focused on policy issues than political issues.”

New this year in the vote descriptions is a 2025 icon next to those bills that directly reflect the goals contained in the Indiana Chamber’s long-term economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

“We do the Legislative Vote Analysis to keep Hoosier employers and citizens informed about what’s going on at the Indiana Statehouse and how their legislators are voting on issues vital to Indiana’s economic future. This report makes it clear which legislators support pro-job growth and pro-business issues, and which legislators do not,” Brinegar explains.

Legislators who score 70% or greater for the most recent two-year voting period are eligible for endorsement by the Indiana Chamber’s political action committee, Indiana Business for Responsive Government.

Bills used in the report were selected based on their significant impact to the state’s economic climate and workforce. Lawmakers are notified of the Indiana Chamber position and reasoning on these bills through various communications during the legislative session – and prior to key votes being taken. Only floor votes for which there is a public record are used in the Legislative Vote Analysis.

Copies of the Legislative Vote Analysis report are sent to all legislators and Indiana Chamber board members, and made available online for all businesspersons, community leaders and citizens.

This marks the 29th year the Indiana Chamber has measured state legislators’ voting performance on bills that reflect the organization’s public policy positions.

VIDEO: Pres. Brinegar Wraps up the 2013 Legislative Session

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar offers a two-minute wrap-up of the 2013 legislative session. Highlighting his review are thoughts on the new budget, tax relief and critical education and workforce development issues.

Common Core Kept in Place

House Bill 1427 preserves the state’s Common Core academic standards and allows for continued implementation.

The Indiana General Assembly rejected the attacks on Common Core and allowed the standards, which the State Board of Education adopted in August 2010, to continue to be implemented. (Only the elements of the program not already adopted – such as testing and science standards – would be paused under HB 1427).

In another strong move, the Legislature mandated standards that include Common Core as the foundation and require college and career readiness criteria. By those standards still being based on Common Core, that should assure that Indiana keeps its federal waiver (that removed us from the federal No Child Left Behind program) and Title I funding for our schools.

It was also critically important that the ultimate decision-making on Common Core remain with the State Board of Education (as it does), which has adopted all previous Indiana standards (including Common Core) and doesn’t face the same politically-charged environment that exists at the Statehouse.

While we don’t agree that actual new adoption procedures are necessary, several positives could result from that. Further review of the Common Core standards would hopefully provide the general public with a better understanding of what Common Core does and doesn’t do. Plus it will give the state the opportunity to determine which, if any, additional standards we should adopt. (The Common Core multi-state agreement permits Indiana to add up to 15% of its own standards to the program.)

The Indiana Chamber advocated for the Common Core standards to be left in place, both for the merits of the program and the consistency of the rulemaking process.

Facts Ignored, Politics Winning on Common Core

Two moms from Indianapolis, a handful of their friends and a couple dozen small but vocal Tea Party groups. That’s the entire Indiana movement that is advocating for a halt to the Common Core State Standards. No educational backgrounds. No track record of supporting education reforms or any other past education issues. And worst of all: A demonstrated willingness to say just about anything, no matter how unsubstantiated or blatantly false, to advocate their cause.

Meanwhile, the policy that they are attacking was implemented by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, then State Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Indiana Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. To date, 45 other states have also adopted it. Common Core has been supported by superintendents, school boards, Indiana’s Catholic and other private schools, principals, teachers unions, the Indiana PTA, various education reform groups, higher education and more. The business community is actively engaged, including strong support from the Indiana Chamber, Eli Lilly, Cummins, Dow AgroSciences, IU Health and many others.

Given that lineup, to whom would you expect the Legislature to be listening? Amazingly, for many in both the House and Senate Republican caucuses, it’s the former and not the latter. Few legislators know anything about Common Core other than the rhetoric that has been thrown at them. Yet, it appears that a majority of Republican legislators are willing to heed those calls, to ignore the more thorough reviews and judgment of individuals and groups that have led on education issues and to throw out two years of implementation that have been underway at schools throughout the state.

Your View: More Choice in K-12 Schools

Education is once again among the dominant Indiana General Assembly topics. Our recent poll question asked your top priority among the following (all five options received between 11% and 30% of the vote):

  • Expand voucher opportunites (30%)
  • Increase overall funding (22%)
  • Leave Common Core standards alone (15%)
  • Preschool funding for students in need (22%)
  • Other (11%). Specifics focused on increasing accountability, restoring traditional public schools and ensuring high levels of learning for all students

A large number of K-12 education bills remain in play at the Statehouse, not to mention proposals on higher education and workforce development. It's promising to see the attention devoted to such important issues. We hope the end results match the intentions.

Check out the new poll question (top right) regarding potential enhancements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pulling the Education Trigger for Students

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow for education policy at the The Heartland Institute. A free-market think tank based in Chicago since its inception in 1984, Heartland typically offers compelling research and insights.

Do I agree with everything I see from Heartland? Far from it.

On education, though, Pullmann has been paying particular attention to Indiana. She reported extensively on the Common Core debate last month.

Now, she weighs in on a "parent trigger" reform bill passed by the House Education Committee last week. Her comments on that option to expand school choice.

“The bill’s proposed changes will give parents actual power to change their kids’ failing schools, which is the whole point of a Parent Trigger. The current school board veto is a veto to the whole idea.

“Because Indiana already has a statewide voucher program, state representatives could add another option for parents besides converting the school to a charter school: giving all the kids slotted to attend that failing school a voucher. Real options for parents is what the Parent Trigger is all about.”
 

Learn much more on education issues in the General Assembly with Indiana Chamber updates and reports.

Common Core Remains at Center of Education Stage

The Common Core was a critical component of the Daniels-Bennett education reforms that were pursued over the last four years. Developed through leadership of the National Governors Association and the Council of State Chief School Officers, these math and English standards are designed to provide a common and rigorous benchmark for students that can be compared across state lines and can be benchmarked against our international competitors.  Adoption of the standards is optional, but Indiana is one of 46 states that committed to the standards after a review by the Indiana Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. The Obama administration has also supported the Common Core by offering additional points in grant competitions to states that have adopted the standards and through two large grants to help support the development of corresponding assessments.  Indeed, Indiana has been one of the lead states in helping to develop one of those assessments.

Unfortunately, that support by the Obama administration has caused some critics to suggest, incorrectly, that the standards have actually been developed by the federal government and/or have been “mandated” by the federal government. Neither accusation is correct. In fact, the real developers of the standards – a consortium of governors and state superintendents – have asked the feds to stop being so “supportive” so that such concerns can be allowed to settle. But here in Indiana, those concerns have emerged most prominently from a small fringe element of the Tea Party that have demanded Indiana withdraw from the Common Core.  Moreover, this opposition is supported by a handful of national researchers from mostly far-right think tanks that have claimed that the standards are poorly designed, lacking in rigor and too expensive to implement. Other researchers and think tanks – along with education officials from Indiana – have rebuked these criticisms; yet, the debate continues.
           
On Wednesday, Indiana took center stage in that debate as local Tea Party activists and national critics joined forces to support a proposed mandate to ban Indiana’s further participation in the Common Core. The Indiana Chamber was the lead presenter among three dozen allies, most of them organized by the education reform group, Stand for Children, which opposed the proposed ban. While the proponents of the ban were limited primarily to a small but passionate number of parents and national think tank representatives, the opponents of the ban included a broad coalition including the Fordham Institute, Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UIndy’s CELL, Goodwill Education Industries, Indiana PTA, Indiana Association of School Principals, ISTA, Indiana Federation of Teachers and more than a dozen classroom and building-level educators.

The Indiana Chamber has acknowledged that some of the critics – at least those focused on contents of the standards rather than hysterical exaggerations of federal intrusion – may have some legitimate concerns that should be evaluated.  But we’ve also noted that those concerns, if legitimate, can be offset by the flexibilities contained within the Common Core and through corresponding adoptions of rigorous assessments and accountability measures. But more importantly, we have urged the Legislature to leave such determinations in the hands of our state’s education leaders, including the Department of Education, the Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education, rather than subjecting our standards to the politicized environment of the Legislature. Indeed, while critics of the Common Core have heaped praise on Indiana’s previous state standards, they consistently overlook the fact that those highly-rated standards were adopted through the same process as was conducted when Indiana adopted the Common Core, and that the Legislature played no role in those adoptions.

Senator Schneider has already drafted one amendment to his bill that would remove the ban from Common Core but would invalidate our state’s previous adoption, require a new adoption process with extensive public input and implement a new ban on Indiana participation in either of the Common Core assessments. Newly-elected State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has occasionally expressed some concerns about the new standards, has urged the Legislature to allow Common Core implementation to continue but has promised to conduct a review of the standards that would be completed by the end of 2013. The Indiana Chamber supports the Ritz recommendation and notes that such a review would be helpful for determining how best to use the flexibilities that are allowed in the multi-state agreement. The next step of this debate will likely occur on January 30, when the Senate Education Committee is expected to amend and vote on SB 193.