Educators have long asked for state lawmakers to cut back on the number of policy changes and requirements placed on schools, but some efforts at the statehouse are receiving mixed feedback.
Part of the so-called “school deregulation” efforts include a proposal for schools to bypass some education laws with state approval.
Rep. Jack Jordan (R-Bremen) wrote a bill that would let school districts apply for waivers to suspend a range of state requirements, with a similar proposal from lawmakers in the Senate. They would allow schools to potentially bypass parts of mandatory curriculum outlined in state law, the length of the school year, and other items included in Indiana’s wide-ranging education policies, as long as they can prove it will benefit students.
Jordan says his bill is broad by design, to offer schools a chance to try new ways to improve student outcomes.
“Maybe they have some ingenious way that we have never thought of that would just knock it out of the park,” he says.
Groups representing school administrators and school choice advocates voiced support for the measures at committee hearings this week. Many say it can offer much needed flexibility for districts to boost student success and ease regulatory burdens.
But the Indiana State Teachers Association is telling lawmakers to proceed with caution. John O’Neal, from ISTA, cited legal concerns about both the process, and the laws schools could apply to waive.
The proposed process would leave it to the State Board of Education to approve or deny waiver applications submitted by districts. The House bill offers a number of protected statutes that could not be subjected to waivers, like collective bargaining for teachers, student health and safety rules, and testing.
The Senate measure was proposed without them, and protections included in the House bill doesn’t cover everything. The first drafts of both bills leaves some items, like the prompt reporting of child abuse, unprotected from a possible waiver request.
O’Neal says that could lead to legal trouble.
“We all hope schools would never try to waive these types of things, but the fact is that from a legal perspective we just don’t know,” he says.
Lawmakers have already permitted some schools to pursue similar flexibility. In 2018, the legislature created a school coalition pilot program allowing members to pursue similar waivers from the state.