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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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