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Councilwoman Sharon Tucker has been selected by the Allen County Democratic Party to replace late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry

Here are 8 education bills passed by Indiana lawmakers

The Indiana Statehouse
File Photo: IPB
The Indiana Statehouse

Indiana lawmakers concluded this year’s legislative session swiftly as promised Friday, and there are a slew of changes coming for schools.

Gov. Eric Holcomb still has his say on a number of education-related bills, although several were part of his 2024 agenda. As of Tuesday, Holcomb has signed Senate Bill 1 and 6, both reading-related legislation.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) told WFYI he’s confident changes to literacy testing and support for elementary students will lead to improvement in the mastery of reading skills.

On the other side of the aisle, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said he’s concerned about requirements in Senate Bill 1to hold back students who struggle to read and believes there should be an investment in early childhood education to combat the state’s reading crisis.

“We should be more proactive than we have in the past,” GiaQuinta said. Attempts by Democratic lawmakers to bolster early education were rejected by the GOP in this session.

Here’s where some education legislation landed following the 2024 session and how that could impact K-12 schools as soon as next academic year.

To track if a bill was signed into law, go to Holcomb’s Bill Watch.

Changes to literacy testing, holding back struggling readers

Reading reforms and a retention measure – the priority of this year’s legislature – could soon be a reality for educators grappling with the state’s literacy problem.

Senate Bill 1, authored by Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger), enforces holding back third graders who fail IREAD-3, the state’s reading assessment, despite intervention efforts and support.

It also requires school districts to have all second graders sit for the test starting next school year while also offering summer school courses to students who are struggling to read or at risk of failing the IREAD exam. There are some retention exemptions for English Language Learners, students with disabilities and students who were previously retained.

The legislation’s push for retention split Republicans who believed it should be implemented as soon as possible and Democrats who feared it would put further stress on educators amid a curriculum shift to the science of reading.

Students will begin to be retained under the bill’s new rules next school year. Based on 2023’s IREAD-3 scores, about 7,050 more students would be retained to third grade in 2026, according to the fiscal analysis from the Legislative Services Agency, or LSA.

Senate Bill 6, widely-considered a partner bill of sorts to the state’s third grade retention bill – now waits for Holcomb’s signature.

The bill, co-authored by Rogers and Sen. Jeff Raatz, tasks Indiana’s Department of Education with developing methods to identify students in grades four through eight who did not pass IREAD-3 and who are not reading proficiently.

The department will also be required to develop guidance for schools to support students who are on the cusp of not being proficient readers.

Expansions to state scholarship accounts

House Bill 1001, authored by Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville), was another priority bill this session that expanded work-based learning legislation from the 2023 session. It allows students to use money from the state-funded Career Scholarship Account program for training to obtain their driver’s license or cover certain transportation costs.

A controversial provision in the bill also expands Indiana’s Education Scholarship Account program for students who have disabilities. The new provision expands the program to those students’ siblings.

Democratic lawmakers say the ESA expansion could be problematic because no changes were made to ESA funding levels. They worry the expanded program could reduce the support available to students who need them.

Finally, the bill requires lawmakers to create a new fund during next year’s budget session topay for postsecondary training after students graduate high school. Lawmakers say the new fund will promote the continuation of work-based education and benefit students who do not attend college.

Antisemitism defined for state education institutions

Legislators met in the middle for a bill that would define and ban antisemitism in the state’s public education institutions, including school districts and colleges.

House Bill 1002, authored by Rep. Chris Jeter (R-Fishers), was amended in the wee hours of session’s final day to make changes to the antisemitism definition.

The amended bill uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, but leaves out IHRA’s examples of antisemitism.

The Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network took issue with the examples but celebrated the amended bill in a statement after its passing.

“The reservations surrounding these examples stemmed from majority of the examples defining certain criticisms of Israel as antisemitic, which could have been used to stifle free speech in schools and on college campuses,” the network wrote.

Truancy legislation

Nearly one in five Indiana students missed more than 10% of school last year, a substantial increase from before the pandemic.

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 282, which aims to cut down on school truancy, or unexcused absences. It requires schools to intervene early and hold parent meetings if elementary school students miss five days without an excuse.

The bill does not address middle and high school students or students who have lots of excused absences, known as chronic absenteeism.

Some House democrats were critical of a provision in the bill that requires schools to report students who miss 10 days of school without an excuse to prosecutors. But it passed the Senate unanimously, and just six House members voted against it.

Religious instruction during the school day

House Bill 1137, authored by Rep. Kendall Culp (R-Rensselaer), requires public schools to release students from class to attend religious instruction for up to two hours a week. The instruction must be off school property and students must have parental permission to leave.

Religious education during the school day is not new in Indiana, but schools are allowed to say no to students leaving under current law. The new bill would change that and force schools to work with organizations that offer faith-based instruction to find the best time to release students.

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also have laws allowing this type of instruction with similar guardrails like voluntary participation and requirements that programs not take place on school campuses.

Some Indiana lawmakers said the bill takes local control away from schools to decide what is best for students. The bill’s proponents say it gives parents more control over their children’s education.

The Senate added language from another bill that would have allowed schools to hire chaplains to act as school counselors. They could have also offered spiritual guidance with parental permission. However, the language was removed from the final versionof the bill.

Cellphones in schools to be further restricted

Senate Bill 185, authored by Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), requires school districts and charter schools to create a policy prohibiting cellphones during instructional time.

There are some exceptions for students to use cellphones, laptops and other devices in a classroom setting: teacher permission for educational purposes, as part of their Individualized Education Plan and in the event of an emergency like health reasons.

Similar legislation is found in states like Florida, Kansas and Vermont where implementation was met with some opposition from students and parents that had districts further restrict use outside of classroom time.

Seclusion and restraint revisions

Approved legislation would bar school employees from placing students in time-out except as a last resort and in situations where safety is at risk. The new language also requires the state’s Commission on Seclusion and Restraint — which was initially established over a decade ago — to meet twice per year rather than just once.

The changes follow an investigation by WFYI that detailed how some schools weren’t accurately reporting how often they restrain and isolate students.

House Bill 1380 defines “time-out” as a “behavior reduction procedure in which access to reinforcement is withdrawn for a certain period of time.” It does not include supervised breaks that may be part of some students’ with disabilities’ individualized education programs.

The bill requires school employees to document each time-out incident and notify parents or guardians when a student is subjected to time-out. Indiana schools are currently required to report seclusion and restraint incidents to parents, but time-outs have not previously been regulated in this manner.

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

WFYI reporters Lee V. Gaines, Dylan Peers McCoy and Indiana Public Broadcasting’sKirsten Adaircontributed to this story.

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