Teachers Deserve (and Need) Our Support

This column by Indiana Chamber VP of Education and Workforce Development Policy Caryl Auslander originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, what better opportunity is there to celebrate the people who make such a positive impact on so many lives.

I’m talking, of course, about teachers. That makes it all the more troubling to see recent stories about a dramatic decline in education school enrollment, as well as district difficulties in finding qualified teachers for available openings.

The all-too public disputes between the Indiana Department of Education and the State Board of Education are hopefully a thing of the past. There is no worse example, or bigger drain on morale, than adult battles that can – and should – be avoided.

As a wife, daughter and sister of teachers, I see firsthand the passion and commitment they bring to their work. As someone advocating in the areas of education and workforce development, I’m in constant contact with others who share that dedication to seeing all students have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m proud that my employer has a mission that calls for providing “economic opportunity and prosperity for the people of Indiana” and leads an Indiana Vision 2025 plan that boasts Outstanding Talent as its most important economic driver.

I’m pleased that our state has opened new doors for families through the introduction and expansion of charter schools and vouchers. These schools and these programs, like all others in education, however, must continue to demonstrate proven results. There is no room for underperformance in this critical enterprise.

I’m happy that the Indiana Chamber and its allies have helped deliver alternative routes for persons holding professional degrees to share their expertise by becoming teachers. The success stories of these career changers and the lives they impact continue to grow.

I’m encouraged that full-day kindergarten options are in place and that preschool pilot programs are taking off in a few selected counties. The expedient expansion of early education, especially for low-income and other disadvantaged population, is hopefully among the next steps. The results are proven and the need is great.

But what about those teachers? They are the MOST critical factor in each student’s ability to obtain the quality education that allows them to become productive members of society. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to attract, retain and reward the best teachers. “More” includes:

  • Increasing starting pay for teachers to attract the best and brightest to the profession
  • Paying our best teachers more money
  • Directing more than the 57% (as of 2013) of every K-12 dollar that reaches the classroom
  • Providing meaningful feedback and professional development for all educators
  • Celebrating teaching successes and lifting up those who have the greatest classroom impact

While teachers play that crucial role, discussions about public education need to focus on the students. Equal access to quality education and success in school for every child is the most important social justice issue of our time. That quality education is the surest way to break cycles of poverty, transform individual lives, lift up our communities and our state, and attract the best employers and jobs.

Thousands of well-paying jobs are going unfilled today and our future ability to secure the best jobs relies on what we do now to provide educational opportunities for all. Every child, every school and every community benefits when all children are learning and succeeding.

Education is not about public versus private or unions versus politicians. It’s about parents, educators, employers, communities and all others coming together and creating an expectation, opportunity and clear path to success for every child.

New Report Shows Progress In On-Time College Graduation, But Not Enough

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE) released the latest Indiana College Completion Report last week, which showed a nearly 7% increase in the number of Hoosiers earning bachelor’s degrees in four years or less. Small gains were also
shown in on-time completion for earned associate degrees. The Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 key driver of Outstanding Talent includes a goal on increasing to 60% the proportion of Indiana residents with high quality postsecondary credentials, which aligns with this study.

From the CHE press release: “We should be encouraged by Indiana’s degree completion gains, especially for our low-income and minority students,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said. “At the same time, we must not relent in our efforts to advance state policies and campus-level practices that encourage ongoing improvement. Opportunities for Hoosiers without a degree or credential beyond high school are diminishing daily. For individual quality of life as well as for our state’s economic future, it is critical that we dramatically increase education attainment in Indiana.”

For more information, view the CHE’s press release and the graduation report.

Bluebridge Holding Launch Party with Verge This Thursday

https_proxyHave plans Thursday? If not, you should hear one of Indiana’s leading young entrepreneurs, Santiago Jaramillo of Bluebridge, describe his experiences thus far in starting a business, and unveil his company’s new digs and new app technology in Fishers. (Get your tickets online.)

During this Verge event, Jaramillo will discuss raising capital in Indianapolis and give entrepreneurs advice on scaling their business to the first $1 million in revenue. Topics will include fundraising, scaling sales and marketing, and hiring.

Here’s a message with details from our friends at Verge:

We’re really excited to team up with Bluebridge for the month of July and celebrate the birth of the new Verge app. We’d love for you to share your feedback on the app experience for its test launch. We’ll be adding features in the months ahead.
Here’s the launch agenda:

– 5:30 pm – Doors open to public (Pizza & beer provided)
– 6:15 pm – Welcome announcement
– 6:30 pm – Pitches
Mobile App Studio – Santiago Jaramillo, Bluebridge
Verge App – Matt Hunckler, Verge
Future of Tech in Fishers – John Wechsler, Launch Fishers and Scott Fadness, Mayor of Fishers
– 7:00 pm – Fireside chat with Santiago Jaramillo, CEO of Bluebridge
– 8:30 pm – Doors close

As you know, tickets move fast, and we’re only releasing 300 spots for this special event. Reserve your spot today!

If you’d like more background, we’ve also covered Jaramillo and Bluebridge in BizVoice.

A-F School Grades and Accountability Debate Continues

The newly-redesigned Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) met recently for the second time this year with what seemed to be very little fireworks and drama. However, there was a very serious and important discussion regarding A-F grades and accountability that is important to watch.

As a reminder, an overhauled ISTEP exam was designed last year to align with recently adopted college and career readiness standards in Indiana. Complaints from parents and teachers were significant regarding the length of testing time for the ISTEP exam earlier this year. The redesigned test was expected to take upwards of 12 hours – more than double the time of previous years. Fortunately, the Legislature – with assistance by the Chamber – was successful in passing legislation allowing the test to be significantly shortened by three hours.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz stated during the July 1 SBOE meeting that other states, specifically New York and Kentucky, have seen dramatic drops in passing rates of students for the first year a change is made in standards and high-stakes exams. Therefore, Ritz provided a list of options for the State Board to discuss on how to handle this situation and suggested a proposal she called “hold harmless” that would assign the better A-F grades between the 2013-2014 year and the 2014-2015 year.

Her reasoning was that even a small deviation in test scores due to the increased rigor of the test could cause schools to drop two letter grades with the potential of the number of schools that would receive an F to more than double. Ritz fears that would cause many schools in Indiana to be unfairly labeled as failing, as well as public image issues and misunderstanding. This is not the first time Ritz has called for a pause of accountability; she has done so many times previously for various reasons to delay sanctions and consequences of lower test scores for schools (also part of her campaign platform) – only to have the SBOE and Indiana General Assembly quickly dismiss the idea.

This go-round, SBOE members had significant concerns over Ritz’s proposal. Sarah O’Brien, who was elected earlier that morning as the group’s new vice chair, stated that this discussion was extremely premature – as grades had not yet even been assigned. Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) officials stated that they expect ISTEP scores this year to be released in November, with A-F grades to follow in December. SBOE member Gordon Hendry added his concerns regarding transparency, as parents of schools with lower grades would not know that their school’s grades had actually dropped.

There was also significant discussion as to whether the 12 options (including the one that Ritz supported) would even be legal. However, some of the options, including the one supported by IDOE, would not need changes in state law or approval from the U.S. Department of Education. State Board members made a recommendation and voted to have Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office review the 12 options and provide a legal opinion as to which option, if any, would be best for Indiana. Further discussions and a vote of support would be the next step for the SBOE and then a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education would be filed.

The Indiana Chamber fully supports transparency and accountability when it comes to grades for Hoosier students and schools. Creating a strong and dynamic workforce is a key goal of our strategic plan, Indiana Vision 2025. Having accountability measures means that we can accurately predict Hoosier students’ progress in school, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast how schools are performing compared to their peers around the state. It is imperative that ALL children have access to strong schools and an educational foundation in order to become productive members of our future workforce.

Steinberger Construction: Maximing Chamber Investment Through Employee Wellness

Blayne-HammelSteinberger Construction began building a wellness program nearly a decade ago, but its partnership with the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI) is adding to its success.

WCI members can take advantage of benefits such as coaching, discounts on educational training, networking opportunities and more.

In 2014, Logansport-based Steinberger Construction (which focuses mainly on steel and concrete work) earned Three-Star certification through the WCI’s AchieveWELL workplace analysis and recognition program. It has three levels: Three-Star, Four Star and Five Star.

“For us, that’s where we stepped up our wellness initiative and kind of refocused our goals,” explains safety and wellness director Blayne Hammel. “The main thing I feel they helped us do was utilize our data (related to health risk assessments and biometric screenings, for instance) more efficiently.”

He also values networking at Connect and Collaborate luncheons (the 2014 statewide tour, which stopped in eight cities, emphasized wellness), employee training and the opportunity to seek guidance from WCI executive director Chuck Gillespie.

“We started a monthly wellness newsletter, and he helped us develop our focus,” Hammel comments. “Typically, when people think about wellness, they think about nutrition and staying fit, but don’t really look at the financial wellness portion of it and stress management options. Utilizing that for some of our articles has been great.”

No Easy Answers: Charting the Future of Higher Ed

higher edFor a century, Hoosiers didn’t need a college degree to make a good living. But with the manufacturing-based economy changing dramatically and giving way, in part, to the knowledge-based economy, you can’t make that case anymore.

Amid the backdrop of an increased emphasis on postsecondary education, we turn to three recognized leaders in the higher education community to discuss the current climate and what needs to happen next:

A quick survey of the college landscape reveals some obvious challenges: rising tuition, student debt and getting more students to complete their degree. The latter is the focal point for Jones and his organization.

“We know that completion rates at most colleges in the country don’t exceed 50%. So the freshman class looks very good in terms of numbers and in terms of diversity, but in the graduating class we only have about half of those students there – and we’ve lost a lot of the diversity that we set out to accomplish. So that’s a huge challenge,” he offers.

Read the rest of the BizVoice magazine article. And be sure to check out the NEW July/August edition at www.bizvoicemagazine.com.

State Board of Education — New and Improved?

The revamped Indiana State Board of Education met on June 1 with very little fanfare or drama compared to previous board meetings. The new board follows the passage of SEA 1, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle), which required a change in
the composition as well as a reconstitution of the board.

While the Indiana Chamber was happy for a productive meeting in June, only time will tell if this cooperation will last long term with a majority of the board members being appointed by the Governor and with Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s recent announcement to run against Gov. Pence in 2016. They have very different philosophies when it comes to education policy.

As a reminder, the Indiana Chamber publicly supported the House version of the legislation that simply allowed the State Board to elect its own chair, HB 1609 authored by Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville). We felt this was the most simple and straightforward way to fix the problems that had been occurring with the State Board over the past two years. However, the Senate version of the bill was the vehicle chosen to move through the legislative process so we worked diligently to make sure the bill was in the best shape possible.

The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Pence on May 7, included a 2017 implementation date for electing a new chair of the State Board, the creation of a vice chair of the board that shares agenda-setting responsibilities with the chair (which we expect to be elected during the July board meeting) and changed the makeup of the board itself. The Governor’s appointees decreased from 10 to eight, with two legislative appointees added – one by the Speaker of the House and one from the President Pro Tempore.

Gov. Pence reappointed the following three new members to the State Board:

  • Eddie Melton – a resident of Merrillville (First District), Melton works as manager of federal governmental relations and community relations at NIPSCO. He was also appointed by the Governor to serve on the Commission on the Social Status of Black Males and serves as the Midwest regional director on the American Association of Blacks in Energy.
  • Dr. Vince Bertram – a resident of Zionsville (Fifth District), Bertram serves as president and CEO of Project Lead The Way, the nation’s leading provider of K-12 STEM programs serving more than 6,500 elementary, middle and high schools across the country. Bertram is the former superintendent of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and was appointed by the U.S. State Department to be the STEM education expert for the United States Speaker and Specialist Program. Bertram also serves on the Indiana Chamber’s K-12 policy committee.
  • Lee Ann Kwiatkowski – a resident of Greenwood (Ninth District), Kwiatkowski currently serves as superintendent for school improvement at the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indianapolis. She is also a former staffer at the Indiana Department of Education where she served in such roles as director of school turnaround, director of differentiated learning and director of the Title I
    program.

The reappointed members of the State Board include:

  • Dr. David Freitas – a resident of Granger (Second District) and has served in higher education for over 30 years including time spent as a university vice provost, dean of education at four universities and dean of the schools of business, fine arts and technology.
  • Cari Wicker – a resident of Uniondale (Third District) and a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Riverview Middle School in Huntington.
  • Sarah O’Brien – a resident of Avon (Fourth District) and a fourth-grade teacher at River Birch Elementary School.
  • Gordon Hendry – a resident of Indianapolis (Seventh District) who serves as first vice president of CBRE, Inc.
  • BJ Watts – a resident of Evansville (Eighth District) who teaches in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation.

The Governor did not re-appoint Tony Walker, Troy Albert or Brad Oliver, while members Andrea Neal and Dan Elsener (the Indiana Chamber’s current chair of the K-12 policy committee) requested that they not be considered for reappointment.

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) appointed Dr. Byron Earnest to the board. Earnest was Indiana’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, is the current head of schools for Hoosier Academies and is the former principal for Manual High School in IPS. President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne) appointed Steve Yager of Fort Wayne, who is the former superintendent of Southwest and Northwest Allen County Schools.

A Look at Indiana State Budget Estimates

19145168The monthly revenue estimates referenced in connection with Indiana’s state budget and commonly used to evaluate how Indiana is doing can be confusing because they change periodically and result in different baselines. First, there are the estimates on which the budget is formed – those established by the revenue forecasters in mid-April each year that a two-year budget is put together by the Legislature. And then there are the most recent revised estimates – updated by the forecasters each December.

If you look closely enough at the reports from the budget agency each month, you can discern the differences. Appropriately, the budget agency compares the actual monthly collections to the most recent updated estimate. But if you go beyond their summary, commentary and main chart you can find out how the monthly revenues compare to the original numbers on which the budget was formed.

Since we are now into the last month of fiscal year 2015 and the last month of our current two-year budget that was written in April of 2013, it seems a good time to look at just how well those forecasters did. While the numbers fluctuate considerably from month to month, with 11 of 12 months actual collections known, they are off by less than 1% (just .8 of a percent.) They projected collections of $13,152,600,000 and actual year to date collections were $13,042,800,000. They were off by $109.8 million, or eight-tenths of a percent, statistically as good as anyone can reasonably expect. In fact, it is pretty extraordinary and the forecasters are to be commended for such accurate work. Good, reliable projections are important to the fiscal integrity of our state.

And our fiscal picture doesn’t look bad at all right now. The collections now stand at $211.3 million or 1.6% above the revised/updated projections (those made in April of this year.) But it is not the estimates that are the real indicator of how the state is doing. It is a comparison of actual year-to-date collections that show actual growth. Those same monthly reports also show how the current fiscal year-to-date collections compare to the actual collections through the same period of the prior fiscal year. With the fiscal year nearly complete, Indiana is 3.6% above the prior fiscal year collections. And most encouraging is the 4.4% year-to-date growth in sales tax (our biggest revenue stream) and the 6.9% growth in individual income tax (the next biggest).

Boiling all this down there are two points: (1) the state forecasters do a great job, and 2) the present fiscal picture of the state looks good.

Ag Strength – By the Numbers

agThere’s no doubting the continued strength of Indiana’s agricultural industry (see the state fact sheet). We’ve told the stories often in BizVoice magazine – and will do so in the upcoming July-August issue (with a look at the prominence of ag businesses in Kosciusko County).

But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Indiana did not rank in the top three exporters by state of various products. There are some interesting states and dollar figures included (selected examples):

  • Soybeans: Illinois ($3.1 billion), Iowa ($2.7 billion) and Minnesota ($1.8 billion)
  • Corn: The same three states as soybeans, with Iowa leading the way at $1.1 billion
  • Wheat: Kansas ($1.5 billion), North Dakota and Montana
  • Pork: Iowa ($2 billion), North Carolina and Minnesota
  • Beef: Nebraska ($946 million), Texas and Kansas
  • Dairy; California ($1.2 billion), Wisconsin and New York
  • Poultry: Georgia, North Carolina and Arkansas
  • Fresh fruit: California ($2.5 billion), Florida ($3.2 billion) and Washington

Purdue Charter School to Help Inner-City Students

purdue-black-and-goldPurdue University President Mitch Daniels has called the low number of Indianapolis Public School students who are prepared for success at Purdue “unacceptable.”

In an effort to combat this, Purdue is launching a polytechnic charter school in Indy to create a direct path for these students to ultimately graduate from the university. It’s a bold move, and if it succeeds, there would be an effort to take it statewide.

Inside INdiana Business has more information, and reveals the charter school is expected to be located in downtown Indianapolis and will be a collaboration among Purdue, the city of Indianapolis, its EmployIndy program and Indianapolis-based USA Funds.

“We applaud President Daniels and Purdue University for this opportunity for low-income and minority students to have the opportunity to have a strong foundation in the STEM areas,” explains Caryl Auslander, vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber. “This will provide students with incredible opportunities to learn using curriculum produced by Purdue faculty and provides direct admittance to the university after graduation. We are pleased to see community and business partnerships in this endeavor and know that it will provide not only unique experiences for students but also create an even stronger workforce in the future.”