Referendums to add money to shrinking public school budgets, such as those held Tuesday in Lake and Porter counties, will be the wave of the future as long as the Indiana General Assembly controls funding.
That was among the messages brought by Glenda Ritz, Indiana's newly elected superintendent of public instruction, during whistle-stop appearances Wednesday in the region.
Ritz talked with future, current and retired educators during stops at the Hammond Area Career Center; Theo’s Restaurant in Highland with the Hammond Teachers Federation’s retirees chapter; the Porter County Career & Technical Center in Valparaiso; and Valparaiso University. It was part of her Imagining the Possibilities. Making Them Happen tour of the state.
Although state funding for education now follows the child from one district to another, the funding formula for Indiana public schools is “all really about privatization (of schools),” Ritz said bluntly at the lunch meeting at Theo’s Restaurant.
The per-student reimbursement from the state is a set base amount, Ritz said. More money is added to that base for students on free- and reduced-lunch programs.
“The only way to increase the funding is to change the composition of the state legislature,” she said at the luncheon.
During her talk at the Hammond Area Career Center, Ritz told the administrators and teachers that “you need to continue having referendums. You have to spend money to get money.”
“I’d run that referendum again,” Ritz said about the effort in Hebron that failed to pass by just four votes. “They need to run it like a real campaign.”
Ritz also emphasized the changes she plans to keep the Indiana Department of Education connected with public schools and to de-emphasize high stakes testing including ISTEP and IREAD.
“We will have an outreach reorganization,” she told retired educators. “There will be 13 outreach coordinators assigned to nine regions of the state to help the schools with their school improvement plans. They will be hired from the regions they represent.”
The outreach coordinators will report to an assistant superintendent of public instruction who will be hired this year and three of the coordinators will be assigned to this area of the state, she said.
“We will be looking at school culture whether that is school safety and security, discipline, reading,” Ritz said. “I’m on a mission for public schools."
Although state law requires the ISTEP test to be given to students for two more years, she said the high stakes nature of the test won’t be used in the same way to evaluate schools and teachers’ performance.
The recent problem with administering the ISTEP test online points out a number of concerns, Ritz said.
“We are going through an extensive review of the invalid tests. We are not counting (those invalid ISTEP tests) against the schools,” she said. “We wouldn’t even be talking about ISTEP if it didn’t have such high stakes.”
No jobs will be in jeopardy because of those test scores, Ritz said. “ISTEP will have lower significance.”
In addition, she said, technology needs to be accessible to every student.
“I mean 1-to-1 access,” Ritz said. “We won’t have equity in technology until everyone has that access.”