Bill promoting IPS partnerships with charters passes House

A bill granting Indianapolis Public Schools unprecedented freedoms to partner with charter schools passed the Indiana House today.

The bill no longer blocks collective bargaining for employees at those schools, a flashpoint for its critics last week. Unions, however, remain opposed, saying teachers at IPS schools could still lose contract protections at the partnership schools.

House Bill 1321 gives IPS the authority to hand empty buildings over for charter schools to use, or to hire charter school operators to run an IPS school. Under these “innovation school” partnerships, IPS could count partner schools’ test scores in district averages. Charters would get space in IPS buidlings and possibly district services like transportation and special education as well.

The bill, which applies only to IPS, gives the district a long-coveted lever it can use to guide the location of some charter schools and a way to negotiate a share of state aid, or perhaps even a portion of outside grants that charter schools receive.

Without it, IPS officials argue, the district has little choice but to treat charter schools as competitors in most cases. Each student who leaves IPS to attend a charter school costs IPS more than $8,000 in state aid. IPS could negotiate to keep a share of that amount as part of the deal when forging contracts for innovation schools.

“What IPS wanted was a level playing field with charter schools,” said Libby Ciezniak, the district’s statehouse lobbyist. “This removes the financial disincentive to partner with charter schools.”

But to the Indiana State Teachers Union, the bill creates a newly uneven playing field for teachers when it comes to their bargaining rights. The bill permits the charter operators to hire teachers for the schools they run — even if they remain IPS schools — and disregard the district’s union contract when deciding what the pay and benefits will be.

Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, tried to address that concern with an amendment softening the approach to unions. The bill originally prohibited employees at innovation schools from unionizing.

“I thought that was too much and unnecessary,” he said.

Huston’s amendment allows unions at the schools. Much like charter schools, employees at innovation schools would have the option to organize into a union if they wish.

But ISTA believes teachers who work for innovation schools under IPS’s umbrella should be represented automatically by the district’s  unions, as they are at all other IPS schools. The bill gives the charter school groups too much latitude to fire teachers if they believe they will try to form a union, STA’s lobbyist, John O’Neil said.

“We’re still completely opposed to it,” he said. “If you look at charter schools and how many people who work at them become union members, it’s incredibly low.”

Huston’s amendment improved the bill, he said, but not enough.

“We’re still fighting this,” O’Neil said.

During the floor debate, bill author Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said it was a tool IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee needed to improve schools. Ferebee, who joined the district in September, collaborated with Behning and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office to craft the bill.

“We should give him the opportunity to try to improve these schools for kids,” Behning said.

Ferebee testified for the bill last week in a House Education Committee hearing and was peppered with skeptical questions from Democrats, IPS’s usual allies. During today’s debate Democrats said the bill was an abdication of the district’s responsibilities and some focused their criticism on Ferebee. Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said Ferebee should resign for supporting a bill no other school district would want a part of.

“It’s nothing but false promises,” Delaney said. “There isn’t one other district in the state that would beg in on this deal.”

House Bill 1321 passed 54-37. It will be considered by the Senate next month.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”