After focusing on failing schools in recent legislative sessions, some Indiana lawmakers say it’s time to reward high-performing schools with more money and more flexibility.
They’re pushing for legislation that would free up the state’s top-achieving schools from some state regulations — including the mandatory 180-day calendar — and send more dollars to schools with historically high graduation rates and student test scores.
“We’ve literally done nothing to encourage our high-performing school districts,” said Republican state Sen. Brandt Hershman, the influential chair of the Senate tax and fiscal policy committee. “Most of our efforts have been focused on those schools that perpetually have underperformed.”
Hershman, of Buck Creek, said past legislation aimed at failing schools, which brought more state oversight and more dollars for “turnaround” efforts, was needed.
But the state also needs to play a role in supporting high-performing schools, he said, giving them the latitude to become “laboratories for innovation.”
Hershman is co-author of a bill expected to come to a vote in Senate this week that would give continually top-performing school districts in the state more autonomy.
Senate Bill 189, if it became law, would allow those districts to develop some of their own curriculum, to create their own teacher evaluations, and to organize classroom time based on instructional minutes instead of the current 180-day school year requirement.
To qualify, schools would have to consistently meet certain goals, including a 90 percent graduation rate and higher SAT scores than statewide averages.
The bill, championed by Republican state Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel, has the enthusiastic support of administrators with the Zionsville Community Schools, a fast-growing and high-performing school district.
They see it as a way to get some relief from the financial pressures created three years ago when the state cut $300 million in funding to K-12 schools.