Education 2014 session preview: Interim study committees release final recommendations

2014 session preview: Interim study committees release final recommendations

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2014 Preview: Recommendations from interim study committees

Throughout the summer and fall when the Indiana General Assembly is not in session, lawmakers convene interim committees and commissions to conduct in-depth research and analysis on complex issues facing the state. The recommendations of the committees have been released, which are likely to become bills when the next legislative session begins in January.  Below are highlights of the topics discussed and final recommendations from several interim study committees.

Reworking Indiana’s A-F school grading system

A panel of 17 educators, advisers and community stakeholders co-chaired by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz reworked the state’s A-F school grading formula this fall. Indiana’s school grading process came under question following allegations that former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett had manipulated the formula to improve the grades of certain schools and released inaccurate grades.

The group included appointees of the governor, legislative leaders and the Department of Education and made recommendations emphasizing the importance of student growth as well as performance.  The new model will continue to utilize “A-F” grade designations but now will expand the grading scale from four points to an easier to understand 100 point scale. The recommended model will offer different frameworks for grades 1-8 as compared to 9-12 and allows for changes in assessments. The ISTEP test will remain the “primary and majority means” of assessing a schools’ improvement and the new model will add data points to measure reading growth and performance when data becomes available.  College and Career Ready (CCR) indicators will factor into the new model and will include the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) as a CCR data point. The panel recognized the need to evaluate growth and included recommendations to measure annual targeted student growth and categorical growth improvement.

The panel noted its accountability model is a framework and may require follow-up recommendations once analysis of data becomes available and will continue to work with subject matter experts.  The proposed model was approved on a vote of 16-1 and will likely be presented before the State Board of Education in early November.

The Accountability System Review Panel’s final report and recommendations>>

Common Core update

Following legislation approved last session to “pause” the implementation of the Common Core Educational Standards, lawmakers and other stakeholders spent the summer assessing the benefits and drawbacks of the standards.  Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz credited the review as an opportunity to ensure any new standards are more rigorous than current standards.

Supporters of the Common Core Standard pointed to career and college ready graduates, emphasis on subject area mastery, critical thinking and teacher flexibility as reasons to support the standards. They also noted the ability of schools to supplement Common Core Standards by up to 15 percent with material approved at the local level and would not be subject to submitting student data to any outside party under Common Core Standards.

Opponents noted that Common Core Standards appeared to stack up poorly compared to standards set by other high-performing nations. They also stated that Common Core Standards would put less emphasis on practice and application and the standards left teachers with very little in the way of teaching strategies.

The Office of Management and Budget estimated that local school corporations already have or could absorb the costs associated with transitioning to Common Core Standards. OMB also noted that state expenditures would be largely dependent on if the state decides to create its own assessments or adopt assessments that have already been developed.

The committee made no formal recommendations but it’s widely anticipated that legislation dealing with the implementation of Common Core Standards will be filed in the 2014 legislative session.

In-depth look at the work of the Interim Study Committee on the Common Core Educational Standards>>

Central Indiana mass transit expansion update

Throughout the summer, the Central Indiana Transit Study Committee has been debating the merits of expanding mass transit options in Marion and surrounding counties. Many proposals have been offered that include expanded bus services that use additional buses running more frequently, the development of a rapid bus system with dedicated lanes through major thoroughfares, as well as a light rail line with a potential route running from downtown to the northeast suburbs. Proponents of the plan argue that expanding mass transit will make Indianapolis a more attractive city to live and work, while also spurring economic development, easing congestion and reducing the negative effects of cars on the city’s infrastructure. Opponents of the plan see the expansion as unnecessary, citing the cities current population density and the tax burden placed on central Indiana taxpayers.

The committee met three times this summer and heard a variety of testimony from city and county leaders, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, Indy-Go, non-profit groups like the Hoosier Environmental Council, citizens and legislators. The committee will meet one more time before the 2014 legislative session begins to finalize the details of any proposed expansion plan, the possibility of using a referendum to let the people decide if taxes should be raised to fund the plan, as well as official recommendations to the 2014 General Assembly.

Improving school safety

The School Safety Interim Study Committee met throughout the summer to evaluate and improve the safety of Indiana’s schools and to lay out the groundwork for how to best implement school resource officer programs around the state. Last legislative session, SEA 1 established a procedure that schools may use to establish a school resource officer program and made matching grants available to schools to employ school resource officers, conduct threat assessments, and purchase safety equipment.

The committee heard extensive testimony from law enforcement and security officials on the best practices to be utilized in keeping Hoosier children safe in school, as well as testimony from officials in Vigo County that have already implemented school resource officer programs in the county. Recently, the state released nearly $9 million dollars to school corporations around the state to begin implementing their own programs.

Although the committee made no official findings or recommendations to be considered by the 2014 General Assembly, legislation may be introduced dealing with the issues of statewide safety standards for school construction and the self-defense statute as it applies to school property.

Download the committee’s final report>>

New child oversight organizations report progress

The Child Services Oversight Committee met twice during this interim and reviewed quarterly data reports from the Department of Child Services (DCS), annual reports from the DCS Ombudsman, and made recommendations to the Commission on Improving the Status of Children. The new directors of the DCS and the department’s Ombudsman Bureau presented reports regarding on-going efforts to improve the delivery of child protection services in Indiana. Three areas that DCS is working to improve include child support, addressing trauma experienced by children upon entering the DCS system, and improving recruitment and retention of DCS staff. Possible locations and staffing of four regional hotline offices as well as rolling out the Children’s Mental Health Pilot project statewide were also discussed. Additionally, the recently appointed State Child Fatality Review Coordinator reported on the status of each county in establishing a local child fatality review team. Recommendations for the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana included the study of system response to newborns born with drugs in their systems and the continuation of monitoring and reviewing changes that have been recommended to the DCS, which the department has begun to implement.

Download the committee’s final report here>>

Health Finance Commission

The Health Finance Commission met five times over the interim and studied the issues ranging from health care reform, biosimilar biological products, immunizations and other topics. The Commission’s final recommendations included continuing to consider any necessary action be taken once the federal government finalizes regulations in the area of disposing of unused prescription drugs and to hold a joint meeting of the standing Health and Education committees of both houses to hear Harvard University professor Jack Shonkoff present on brain development.

Download the committee’s final report here>>

The Commission also approved the following Preliminary Drafts (PD):

  • PD 3352 requires the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to study and make recommendations concerning the issue of the high cost of dental education.
  • PD 3296 requires, before September 1, 2014, the State Department of Health to adopt rules concerning the regulation of facilities for treatment of traumatic brain injuries, and make recommendations to the Legislative Council and Health Finance Commission concerning food handling law changes.
  • PD 3364 prohibits a person less than 16 years of age from using a tanning device in a tanning facility and repeals a provision requiring a person less than 16 years of age to be accompanied by a parent or guardian when using a tanning device in a tanning facility. The draft also requires the State Department of Health to adopt standards concerning the safe use of tanning devices by individuals.
  • PD 3341 allows a pharmacist to substitute an interchangeable biosimilar product for a prescribed biological product if certain conditions are met. The draft requires the Board of Pharmacy to maintain an Internet web site that lists the biosimilar biological products that are determined to be interchangeable and allows the board to adopt rules. The draft provides that a written or electronic prescription for a biological product must comply with the existing prescription form requirements.
  • PC 3361 requires the State Department of Health and the Office of the Secretary of Family and Social Services to establish a work group to study uniform access to electronic health data by health providers.
Statewide water resources plan

The Water Resource Study Committee targeted improved collaboration and coordination among agencies overseeing the state’s water assets and the creation of a water resources joint task force during meetings this summer.

The proposed task force would begin work in the summer of 2014 to streamline the handling of water issues between state and local governments and utilities as well as collect relevant information on water issues. The task force would also determine how the availability of water resources impacts state and regional economic development and study unique challenges facing water usage in rural and agricultural-dependent communities. The task force would then incorporate testimony and insight into a statewide water plan, crafting legislation to create the plan if it cannot be applied administratively.

Download the committee’s final report here>>

Committee on Child care

The permanent Committee on Child Care met several times during the interim, hearing testimony on topics including Child Care and Development Funds, efforts to assist child care providers in meeting statutory requirements and improving quality and a number of other issues.

The committee made a handful of small recommendations, including suggesting the Bureau of Child Care and Legislative Council monitor and make any changes to state regulations governing CCDF block grants so as to remain eligible for federal support. The committee also voted unanimously in favor of introducing legislation in 2014 addressing eligibility for CCDF funds and immunization data registry access.

Download the committee’s final report here>>

Public employee pension management changes

Members of the Pension Management Oversight Commission (PMOC) concluded business for the interim and made recommendations to be considered by the next General Assembly. Final action taken by PMOC included the unanimous approval of a motion made by Senator Karen Tallian. The motion pertains to action taken earlier this year by the Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS) Board of Trustees regarding the issuance of annuities to Public Employees’ Retirement Fund (PERF) and Teacher Retirement Fund (TRF) retirees for their Annuity Savings Accounts (ASAs) that would lower benefits for retirees.  Tallian’s motion included the following recommendations:

  • INPRS pursue an option that would keep the annuitization of ASAs in-house and to not proceed with a third party contract. Instead INPRS should periodically establish an interest rate that will not create an unfunded liability in their managed funds;
  • The General Assembly not set a statutory interest rate at this time; and
  • The date to undertake these activities occur not earlier than October 1, 2014.

Following PMOC’s final hearing, the INPRS Board met and issued a statement requesting more information from lawmakers before it makes decisions regarding the privatization of annuities. It’s likely further action on this matter may be taken by the next session of the General Assembly.

Veteran affairs issues

The Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs convened during the 2013 interim and was charged with addressing the needs of the state’s military and veteran populations. The unemployment rate for Hoosier veterans is nearly double the state average, and the Senate Democrats are committed to giving Hoosier veterans the resources they need to find gainful employment after their service. The commission heard extensive testimony from the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) and stakeholders such as the Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana and the National Disabled American Veterans on the issues that veterans face after serving the country. The commission made the following key recommendations to be considered during the 2014 legislative session:

  • Expanding eligibility to access the Military Family Relief Fund by changing the requirement that assistance be requested within three years of the date that active duty ends or the conflict is ended in order to serve more veterans in need.
  • Creating a full-time position within the IDVA for a women veteran’s coordinator to serve as a resource for the growing number of women veterans in Indiana with their health care and VA benefits, education, employment, homelessness, etc.
  • Increasing financial incentives, punitive damages, or both to prevent hiring discrimination against individuals serving in the military.
  • Requiring colleges and universities in Indiana to accept transfer credits earned by military service members from other institutions of higher education toward degree attainment.

Download the committee’s final report>>

Unemployment insurance benefits

The Unemployment Insurance Oversight Committee convened during the legislative interim to receive testimony from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) on the issues surrounding unemployment insurance compensation. The committee heard testimony from Commissioner Scott Sanders who gave an update on the unemployment fund’s balance as well as other topics of interest. Mr. Sanders reported Indiana’s August 2013 unemployment rate was 8.1% and that August was the twenty-sixth month in a row that Indiana’s unemployment rate has exceeded the national unemployment rate. The commissioner also informed the committee that Indiana is on target to repay the federal government for the state’s unemployment insurance loans by 2017, a year ahead of schedule. The federal emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) benefits are due to expire December 31, 2013.

Download the committee’s final report>>

The committee members also considered changes to how unemployment insurance payments are distributed. Long advocated by Sen. Karen Tallian and Senate Democrats, a direct deposit of benefits will be available to unemployment insurance recipients in early 2014. The state’s debit card contract is being put out to bid, and the bid specifications require that a benefit recipient have the option to receive a payment by direct deposit into a personal savings or checking account.