The Indiana General Assembly is back in session and this legislative season is already proving to be an exciting one for Indianapolis Public Schools. Amid necessary ISTEP+ fixes, the Indiana legislature is moving rapidly to rectify the troublesome effects of adopting new curricular standards and implementing a new statewide assessment. IPS joins school corporations across the state in reminding families that measuring students’ success is a multi-faceted, ongoing endeavor. The district also continues to participate in conversations about what local supports are vital for families to receive a high-quality public education. Months ago, the IPS Board of School Commissioners and the administration began identifying our 2016 legislative priorities, alongside the development of IPS Strategic Plan 2015 – our three-year roadmap toward excellence in academics, operations and community engagement – in hopes to preemptively address issues that limit flexibility, in some cases causing barriers to teaching and learning. From these widespread efforts, including gathering stakeholder feedback, scrutinizing various data, and determining the most effective strategy for leveraging external relationships have informed our 2016 Legislative Agenda.

IPS Operations Officer David B. Rosenberg, who most recently served as deputy chief of staff for the City of Indianapolis, joined teamIPS in October and now heads our lobbying efforts with lawmakers. Rosenberg collaborates daily with legal counsel, staff, Marion County legislators, community stakeholders, supporters and others to ensure that the district’s priorities are on the forefront this legislative season, marshaling advocacy for the children and families we serve. Rosenberg highlighted four distinct urgencies for IPS this year:

1. Innovation Network Schools – Increased flexibility to restart low-performing neighborhood schools as innovation charter schools. “Increasing our flexibility will ensure our families have the best academic opportunities. We intend to give students, who reside in the boundaries of the Innovation Network Schools, preference to be able to attend the schools.”

2. Teacher Shortage – Elimination of unnecessary barriers for entry into Transition to Teaching Programs. “We want to retain talented teachers and build a strong pipeline of talent into the district. By eliminating unnecessary barriers such as the content mastery exams required for admission into the Transition to Teaching Programs, aspiring secondary teachers will have a better chance at becoming licensed,” said Rosenberg.

3. Fiscal Issues – Extension of the capital projects fund “(CPF) transfer” law and the “protected taxes” waiver that will allow IPS access to over $15 million to cover costs such as utilities, insurance, transportation and capital projects.

4. Students– Mandatory Kindergarten to help ensure students are prepared for 1st grade. Regarding the district’s persistent efforts to expand and enhance early learning opportunities, Rosenberg shared, “Every child needs to have the opportunity to receive a high quality education at the earliest stage possible. We also want to receive state funding for high quality Pre-K; students need a strong educational foundation in order to be successful throughout their entire school careers.”

Just before the holidays, Rosenberg accompanied Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee in a fruitful bipartisan meeting with Marion County legislators to discuss the 2016 IPS Legislative Agenda. Rosenberg was also present for the opening of the 2016 Indiana General Assembly and recalls, “In the first week of the 2016 Indiana General Assembly, lawmakers got to work immediately debating many important education bills. HB 1003, Teacher evaluations, passed the House Education Committee. The bill would decouple ISTEP results from a teacher’s evaluation if the scores lower the educator’s rating in this transition year. The Senate also took action by passing SB 200, Measuring school performance, out of the Senate Education & Career Development Committee. SB 200 would protect the evaluations of schools and school districts from the impact of negative ISTEP results for the 2015-2016 school year.”

In a January 7 Indiana Department of Education release, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz indicated the proposed bills would safeguard the teacher evaluation process, while still applying to schools the positive and negative impacts associated with using an A-F accountability model. Ritz said the bills are expected to move “quickly through the legislative process before being signed into law by the Governor later this month.” IPS is encouraged by the collaborative bipartisan efforts around education topics thus far and is hopeful for additional triumphs for our students, staff and families.

Another key issue on the radar for the General Assembly is addressing the teacher shortage in the state. [IndyStar.com] As IPS continues to streamline business practices to invest additional dollars in teacher compensation, collaborate with strategic partners to provide professional development opportunities for our educators, and implement innovative strategies such as the Opportunity Culture model, we are asking our legislators to adjust laws that will help strengthen hiring practices for school corporations.

IPS pledges to fervently advocate for those whom we serve, and we’re committed to keeping you informed of key developments impacting our schools this legislative season.

You can also track daily discussions our lawmakers are having on social media by following the hashtag #INLegis.