State Senator John Ruckelshaus held a public phone call today (April 16th) to talk about the impact of the coronavirus on education and the schools in Indiana. The call included two others along with the senator, Jason Bearce the Indiana Chamber Education Policy Director and Joel Hand the Executive Director of Indiana Coalition of Public Schools. All three talked about the impact the virus and the shut down are having on education within the state of Indiana and upon the schools. I took a number of notes during the meeting, which I presented here.
Prior to Jumping into Education….
Prior to jumping into the core topic of education in
Indiana, Senator Ruckelshaus mentioned a few of the things happening within Indiana
related to Covid-19.
- The governor’s office had announced that many Marion
County and state companies were converting their production over to make ventilators
and personal protection equipment (PPE).
- He indicated that the discussions around the
state are starting to pivot towards opening the state.
- He mentioned that schools in Indiana had moved
to virtual only – meaning they are not meeting in the buildings, but rather
doing eLearning or providing packets for kids to do work at home.
- About 20 executive orders have been issued by
Gov Holcomb. Two of these are education related. The education related orders
include a variety of things, some of which are a little more mundane such as focusing
on bus inspections and other topics.
Jason Bearce is the Vice President of Education and Workforce
Development at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which is a role where he
advocates for k-12 workforce issues among other things. The senator introduced Jason,
who in turn talked about what he is seeing happening in the area of education
in Indiana and the impact of the virus.
Focusing on Schools and Education….
- The overall theme on the executive orders that impacted schools and education was to provide maximum flexibility to the districts and as much local control as possible.
- Meeting the 180-day minimum requirement was a state regulation that was going to be hard to meet. For that reason, 20 days had been waived from the calendar. It was stated, however, that 20 instructional or eLearning days were still needed between the March announcement and the end of the year. (Note: this is what I heard stated, but depending on individual schools, 160 days seems to be the new target for the year).
- Some schools are well equipped and have things such as one-to-one devices. Even though these schools are well equipped, they weren’t necessarily prepared to do the level of eLearning or off-site school that the closing of the school buildings caused. Schools that didn’t have devices on hand are doing things such as handing out packets of learning materials or taking different approaches.
- Many requirements for schools have been loosened or delayed. This includes teacher evaluations, testing, and more.
- Impact on traditional experiences has been an issue. Things such as High School graduations, and other ‘school experiences’ have been impacted.
- If seniors were on track when they March orders were given, then per the governor, they’ve pretty much met what they need to for High School – barring any local requirements.
- Exit exams and such for college credit or dual credits are being worked on as well. The state is working with colleges to make sure that the credits are there and work. They are trying to make this as seamless as possible.
- Schools are in all sorts of different places as to what schooling looks like. Schools are required to submit a continuous learning plan to the state, which is due tomorrow. These plans should be looking at what can be done between now and the end of the school year as well as looking at the summer and next fall. This information will be used by policy makers to make decisions.
- Parents have been challenged including single parent families. To some degree, the education system is not designed for extended periods of remote learning. Except for virtual schools, eLearning was set up as a stopgap and a fill-in. It was to cover for a couple of days of bad weather, not long-term learning. The long-term use of eLearning has been a burden put on parents.
The CARES Act
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security act provided two sets of funding to the state.
The first part of the funding is being distributed across
the states and to schools based on formulas. This is roughly a $215 million
distributed to schools by formula grants. The formula uses things such as Title
1 and other programs to determine distribution.
ESL, Free and Reduce lunches, and other standard funding items are used in
the formulas. As such, schools with more diverse and at-risk kids will get more
There is information available on internet including an
estimate of what districts will get. Some examples given include Indianapolis
Public Schools, which are at the high-end and will get around $22 million.
Washington Township should get around $2.4 million. Lawrence Township is getting
about $3.4 million. Wayne Township is getting about $4.5 million.
Some of the suburban schools will get a lot less. For
example, Carmel is getting about $224,000. Hamilton Southeastern will get about
$334,000. Zionsville is slated for only about $64,000. This is all driven almost exclusively by
population and formulas.
A second set or pot of money is also being made available. Governors
have funds for emergency support grants. Indiana is expected to get about $60
million to distribute between K-12 and higher education. State lawmakers will
figure out the allocation of these funds. No further details were given on this
at this meeting.
The Importance of Schools
The crisis has shown how important the public schools are
across the state. Schools have stepped up to the plate to provide for the needs
of their students
- Most schools have some PPE equipment, which has
been provided to them. Many schools are donating the supplies to their local hospitals.
For example, Hamilton Southeastern has donated thousands of items to Community
- Schools are helping to provide food to students
in need of food. Many are doing this via pick-ups, drop offs, and even a few
- There is a wide disparity across the state on
what is available for distance learning. In rural areas where internet is not as
prevalent or robust, packets are being sent home.
- In some cases, schools are purchasing large
quantities of computers to distribute to students.
- A lot of concerns have been vocalized by parents
and their ability to help the students. Some teachers and staff have stepped up
to provide one-on-one help as well as coming up with other solutions.
- In some cases, schools and libraries are extending
their internet WiFi so that it reaches there parking lots. This allows parents and
students to come to the school parking lot to get access to the internet.
- One of the important comments made was that
currently, the government doesn’t expect any serious cuts in K-12 funding.
- There is a Covid-19 page on the Indiana government
site (www.doe.in.gov) that has a great deal of information on how the Department
of Education is responding to the Covid-19 situation. There is an FAQ page.
- Dr. McCormick, Indiana state Superintendent of
Public Instruction, is doing weekly webinars with school leaders.
- The Indiana State Board Association (ISBA) also
has a resource page for parents, teachers, students and others at https://www.isba-ind.org/coronavirus-resources.html.
This includes links to frequently asked questions and other resources.
“The digital divide”
They are looking to try to track and document where the
digital divide is prevalent within Indiana. This is not just in the rural
areas, but also in urban areas where there are low income families.
Learning loss is a serious concern for this period of time,
especially for those students that were already behind before the pandemic. This
crisis has illuminated some of the educational inequities happening across the
state. Some of this is a result of the challenges such as location (rural vs
urban) and the ability to recruit teachers, and more. Geography, however,
shouldn’t be the determining factor of what is available for students. Finding
where gaps are will help in providing fixes going forward.
There are new opportunities for private / public learning
opportunities. Innovation is happening in this area. While there is a lot of uncertainty,
there is also a lot of creativity happening. There is opportunity for providing
a more dynamic educational experience in the future.
How to Discuss and Do eLearning
The real power of education is a hybrid of eLearning and
Online learning will never replace the quality of
face-to-face education in the classrooms with teachers. During this time, we must
make do and do the best with what we have.
State legislation and policies are working to drive more
resources to do things such as driving more internet bandwidth to the urban and
low-income areas. This will help us be better prepared in the future if such
events like this happen again.
There needs to be meaningful teacher instruction and
meaningful student learning. It will be interesting to see how the state responds
to those students that might e falling behind. There will be some learning gaps
due to the eLearning, so it will be interesting to see how the state steps up
to help with the remediation.
According to the Senator, remediation is not necessarily top
at mind, but as we emerge out of this, remediation services will have to be a
focal point. There are line items in the state budget to help with the cost of
There was a lot more state resource targeting remediation in
the past (15 years ago or so). We are not likely to have summer schools this
year, so that’s going to impact remediation services. There might be a need to provide
these services remotely. Schools will have to figure out how to transition to
the remote and online services for remediation over the summer.
About the Fall….
Only thing the senator is hearing is that schools are preparing
a contingency plan in the case that the pandemic continues through summer months. It is only contingency planning with the hope
that schools will open.
It was emphasized that no decisions have been made at
the state level to not start school at its normal time.
Things being discussed regarding opening schools include smaller
class sizes, kids wearing masks, and more separation.
What is the new normal? Would kids need to have their
temperatures taken when they come to school? Would they wear masks? These are
being discussed, but nothing is decided. The focus is on protecting kids, teachers,
and others and preventing the additional spread of the virus.
Marion County needs to be locked down until at least the end
of the month. Other counties are behind on the curve and need longer. The state
doesn’t have all the answers and likely not even all the questions at this time.
They don’t have what is needed to be able to make a lot of decisions. Some of
the areas in southern Indiana have had low-to-no cases, which is different from
areas like Marion county.
There is a lot to be determined.
Q&A From the Phone Call
The meeting was opened to Q&A from those on the call.
The following are my notes from the Q&A comments:
Question >> What is the point in time that
decisions for the fall have to be made?
Early to mid-June is likely the time point. Some schools
start in July, and schools need time to ramp up. This is evolving and changing
situation. Schools and state leaders have to be nimble in planning head. The
data is being evaluated, and the governor has been good at not making any definitive
statements because of the status of things.
Question >> How much time and money would Indiana
save if they cut back on testing next year as well and only did what was
federally mandated? (Questioner commented
that testing wasn’t happening so much when they were in school and asked about
more project-based learning and such.)
Philosophically, there is a balance between testing, project-based
instructions, and teaching. Indiana doesn’t really test any more than what the
federal government requires. One annual assessment for English and Math is what
the state and fed require. Additional testing is done at the local level and is
not required by the state.
In regard to costs, about $30 million is development and administering
testing. The state would lose about $750 million in Federal funding if we
pulled out testing.
We need to have a system of consistent measures to be able
to inform policy makers, teachers, and parents, but we also need flexibility for
schools to be able innovate in flexible learning.
Joel responded that hundreds of millions are spent on testing
on testing each year. The state used to spend more money on remediation than on
testing. Now it appears more is spent on testing than on remediation. By necessity,
we are going to have to spend more on remediation.
Because of tests being waived, teachers have been freed at
this time to do more creative teaching.
Question>> Early and speculative information says that
projections don’t look good. With a budget session is just around the corner, what
is going to happen to school funding?
Some of the backfill federal money (?) should help with the
k-12 education funding. The state doesn’t really know what revenue (“intake”) will
be coming. Sales tax is the number one source of income to Indiana, so and they
don’t know the impact that its decrease will be on overall revenue. Gaming was the
fourth highest income stream for the state, and it has been basically shut
down. It is likely to be third or fourth quarter before the leadership has an
idea of what numbers are going to look like.
Joel commented that there is a real issue regarding state
revenue. Most recent revenue numbers showed how much income the state was
already expected to lose. With State shifting education funding towards sales
tax with the cap having been placed on property taxes, there is going to be a
hit to funds with a downturn of the economy.
Education never really recouped the dollars form the last
recession, so people are concerned. The senator stated that the governor currently
has no plans to cut k-12 funding next year. If k-12 education is a priority,
then it should stay at or close to what it is; however, it is to be determined
based on what revenue happens, so it is too early to know at this time.
The senator stated that the main goal is to keep the funding
at the level it was recently set to. The state has a $2 billion + rainy day
fund – and this seems to be a rainy day.
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