INDIANAPOLIS—An education bill involving school standards, temporary teachers and transportation passed out of Senate committee Thursday.
House Bill 1251, authored by Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, is a multifaceted education bill that would aim to narrow education standards, change frequency of state standardized testing, consolidate school transportation and create adjunct teacher positions in K-12 schools.
The bill passed out of the committee on an 8-3 vote. After the meeting, a comment from Behning began gaining traction on social media.
While answering a question on the bill at the Senate Education and Career Development meeting Wednesday, Behning said 30 out of 1,000 Black students in IPS passed both sections of ILEARN.
"I would suggest that part of the problem is—and there's a number of things—poverty impacts that for sure, having a respect for learning, all of—there's a lot of things that come into play,” Behning said.
On social media, this comment was shared with suggestions that Behning said Black students at IPS do not have a respect for learning. A spokesperson for Behning denied these claims, stating that Behning’s mention of respect for learning was meant to be applied more generally to all students.
“All students deserve the opportunity to succeed, and we know factors outside school impact the learning that takes place in the classroom. This is the belief that drives the work I do every day,” Behning said in a statement. “I know that issues like poverty are complex but have a real impact on students.”
The narrowing of standards within the bill would help students establish essential skills and give educators flexibility to dive into more interesting topics, Behning said.
Behning also said the bill was born out of meetings with superintendents where they expressed concerns about the shortage of teachers and bus drivers.
The adjunct teachers would help remedy the teacher shortage, Behning said. These adjuncts would be required to have up to 4,000 hours of experience in their field.
During testimony, the bill received mixed reviews, with most focused on the adjunct teacher language.
Supporters of the adjunct teacher portion of the bill say it would fill teacher positions with experienced community members. Those in opposition say the fact that it removes adjunct teachers from collective bargaining will cause schools to hire more of these adjuncts instead of traditional teachers and pay them less and that the adjuncts would not have the proper pedagogy knowledge to be educators.
In an effort to lessen concerns that the nontraditional educators would not know how to manage a classroom, the bill was amended Thursday to give each adjunct a “mentor” teacher.
Sarah Craft, an English and economics teacher at Borden Junior Senior High School, said she has completed a master’s degree and 36 hours of postgraduate work to do her job as an educator. Croft said the amendment improved the adjunct teacher language, but the bill is an insult to the profession.
“The adjunct teacher language, at its core, furthers the perception that anyone can be a teacher,” Craft said. “It is language that implies anyone, trained educator or not, can do my job as well as I can.”
Craft also said the two-year contract was risky, since these adjuncts may want to leave after just a year of real experience as an educator.
“If they decide not to come back for year two, the cycle starts all over again,” she said.
Craft added that there are currently nine pathways to become a teacher in Indiana, so Hoosiers who want to become teachers are likely already pursuing licensure.
Sally Sloan with the Indiana branch of the American Federation of Teachers agreed.
"Schools already have temporary teacher contracts, substitute teachers and emergency permits, plus 10 avenues of alternative certifications,” Sloan said. “This path may address the teacher shortage for a while, but it is not a recruiting and retaining path to bring trained, licensed, highly qualified teachers to the classroom for long-term professions.”
Tim Conner, an educator at Delphi Community Schools, said it was concerning to him that the bill did not have an ending date and excludes adjuncts from collective bargaining.
“I'm afraid that may be a union busting [bill] and I hope that's not the intent,” Conner said. “There don't seem to be guardrails on this bill that could prevent misuse of this pathway—for example, that the positions aren't in the bargaining unit."
But not all of the testimony was negative.
Angelia Moore, an Indianapolis parent, spoke in support of the bill. Moore said her daughter was taught by a dance professional, an experience she carries with her today. Moore, who has alopecia, said she was able to appear at a barbering class taught by a professional to talk about alopecia.
“I also want to be notified when I have an adjunct teacher in front of my student,” Moore said.
The bill would require the Department of Education to pilot an assessment in third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades.
Rachel Burke, president of the Indiana Parent Teachers Association, said her organization supports the legislation for its efforts to limit testing, even though it is against separating adjuncts from collective bargaining.
“We wholeheartedly support any bill that attempts to return classroom time to teachers for teaching and students for learning,” Burke said.
Tim McRoberts, on behalf of the Indiana Association of School Principals and the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said the organizations are supportive of the bill because it provides more flexibility in hiring for administrators.
The bus legislation is supported mainly by those that support school choice.
Behning used Marion County as an example, saying it has 11 school districts and 10 provide transportation.
Moore, who said she supports school choice, also said she was supportive of the bus language because she was recently notified that her son would not be able to ride the bus he normally would.
During the meeting, the bill was amended to allow part-time adjunct teachers as well as full-time. Adjunct teachers may only teach music, art and science in kindergarten through fifth grade.The amendment by Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, would also pair the adjunct teacher with a mentor teacher to train them on how to manage a classroom. Rogers’ amendment also says the school may not pay an hourly rate to an adjunct teacher that is higher than that of a first-year teacher without discussion within the bargaining unit.
Another amendment, by Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, would require teacher vacancies to be posted online.
The amended bill will now move on to the full Senate.