Bills that would ban schools from teaching “divisive concepts” and open libraries to prosecution for distributing harmful material have passed the first hurdles of the Indiana Legislature.
Along with other proposals to require school corporations to provide a public comment period, and to share referendum funds with charter schools, the bills met legislative deadlines in the last week and now cross chambers for approval.
Here are some education-related bills that are moving forward, as well as a few also-rans that didn’t make it through.
Transgender girls in youth sports: HB 1041 would ban trans girls from participating in girls’ sports at the K-12 level. The bill originally applied to collegiate sports as well, but the language was amended. Proponents say they’re trying to preserve a sense of fairness in girls’ athletics, while opponents say the bill targets already vulnerable children trying to play sports with their friends. After a heated comment period, spectators left the gallery shouting “shame on you” to lawmakers after the bill passed committee.
Revenue sharing: HB 1072 would require school corporations to share referendum money with charter schools that enroll students who live within that corporation’s boundaries. Author Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) said it would allow dollars to better follow students, but opponents decried the move as taking needed funding away from traditional public schools. Districts already have the option to share referendum funds with charter schools, as Indianapolis Public Schools has recently decided to do.
No school A-F grades: The state board of education would once again assign schools a “null” or “no letter grade” for the 2021-22 school year. The board did so last year due to disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic. Schools have not been issued A-F grades since 2018 due to the switch to a new state assessment.
Special education disputes: Schools would no longer be able to require that parents sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to resolve legal disputes related to their students’ special education services. If passed, Indiana may become the first state to ban the practice. HB 1107 would also require the state to create a database of issues addressed in these due process hearings.
School board public comment: Two bills, HB 1130 and SB 83, would require school boards to offer an oral public comment period. Last year, tense meetings led at least one school district, Carmel Clay Schools, to suspend public comment for several months. Rep. Tim O’Brien, the author of the HB 1130, noted that Carmel restored its public comment period shortly after HB 1130 passed unanimously out of committee.
“Divisive concepts” ban: A bill to regulate what teachers can teach about race would prohibit teachers from promoting eight concepts that lawmakers have deemed divisive. HB1134 would also require schools to post bibliographic information of their curriculum, and to create parent committees to approve curriculum. The Indianapolis NAACP has decried the bill as racist, joined by groups including the Indianapolis Urban League and Marion County Commission on Youth in opposing it.
Campus free speech: House lawmakers nearly unanimously supported a bill to enshrine in state law First Amendment protections for college campuses. But critics questioned why HB 1190 was needed if federal law already granted those rights, and universities have stopped short of supporting it. Sheila Kennedy, a professor emeritus at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, said it could complicate existing law.
Adjunct teacher permits: HB 1251 and SB 356 allow school corporations to issue adjunct teacher permits and hire adjunct teachers who meet certain requirements. Those employees would not be union members nor covered by collective bargaining agreements or salary schedules. Districts could hire such employees only part time under an amendment to SB 356.
Attendance adjustments: Lawmakers changed how schools’ average daily attendance is tabulated for the 2021-22 school year after schools expressed concern that they would lose money for students in quarantine since virtual students are funded at 85% of the normal state allocation. SB 2 extends the window for counting enrollment and allows the Department of Education to retroactively fund schools for students who were in quarantine.
“Harmful material” protections: Another hotly debated bill, SB 17 removes legal protections for K-12 schools and public libraries from a law that prohibits distributing harmful material to children. Colleges and college libraries would keep those protections, but other libraries could no longer claim the material was educational in nature. Proponents said the law targets only obscene material, defined in Indiana code as that which is “patently offensive” for minors and lacks literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. But opponents fear it could be more widely interpreted to ban books on topics like sex education and LGBTQ relationships.
FAFSA requirement: SB 82 requires Indiana high school seniors to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. The requirement passed the Senate previously, but had stalled in the House. Advocates say it would help improve Indiana’s declining college enrollment.
Not moving forward
In-state tuition: SB 138, which would have made undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition, failed to pass the Senate Education Committee.
“Divisive concepts” companion bill: The Senate abandoned SB 167, its own version of a proposal to regulate teaching race after national backlash over Sen. Scott Baldwin’s comments that schools could teach Nazism impartially. Lawmakers said at the time that SB 167 had “no path forward,” casting some uncertainty over how the nearly-identical HB 1134 will fare in the Senate.
Collective bargaining: The bill would’ve required school districts to bargain with teachers’ unions over matters like class size, teacher prep periods, and health and safety measures amid COVID-19 — provisions that were stripped by the state legislature a decade ago. Restoring the right was a legislative priority for the Indiana State Teachers Association this year, but SB 178 died in the Education Committee.
Partisan school boards: A proposal to require school board candidates to identify their political affiliation drew universal criticism at its first House Education Committee hearing. HB 1182 ultimately never came up for a vote.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.