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Bill would free Indiana’s top schools from state regulations

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s high-performing schools could get a break in a proposed Senate bill that would relieve them from rigid state requirements and provide them with more flexibility if adopted.

The bill’s author, Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, tried the concept last year as part of legislation that included a number of other provisions. This year, the proposal is in a stand-alone bill, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Bill 189 would allow for continually top-performing schools such as Carmel Clay and Zionsville, which top state rankings, to have freedom to develop their own curriculum, to create their own teacher evaluations and career and technical training, and to organize classroom time based on instructional minutes instead of the current 180-day school year requirement.

“We’re trying to reward performance with additional freedoms to allow the next step or the next generation of academic innovation to take place in the classroom,” Delph said.

School systems would have to be certified as a performance-qualified school district to get flexibility in their administrative and instructional organization. Some of the requirements include a districtwide graduation rate of at least 90 percent and SAT scores higher than the statewide average.

After becoming a certified performance-qualified school district, the district would have to meet certain requirements each year to continue in the program. Those rules would be developed by the Indiana Department of Education.

Carmel Clay Superintendent Jeff Swensson and Carmel Clay School Board member Andrew Klein brought the idea for the bill to Delph.

“The proposed legislation represents education reform at its best by creating incentives for excellence by rewarding high-performing districts with flexibility. The new law would encourage excellent school systems to find ways to do even better,” Klein said in a news release.

In a statement, Swensson said the idea was developed as a combined effort between various school districts and legislators.

Zionsville Superintendent Scott Robison was involved in the effort.

Robison said the bill might provide “flexibility for teachers and learners who perform above minimum standards and want to go even farther, do special learning experiences, flex time, extend on certain important experiences, and so much more.”

He said he hopes Zionsville might qualify for additional flexibility.

“We would like to qualify to have some flexibility and release from some of the onerous bureaucracy and reporting related to accountability,” he said. “If we can consistently prove accountability in the form of being performance qualified, it may save money by allowing us to be free from some bureaucratic reporting and other required activities designed or involved in accountability.”

Newly elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said through a spokesman that she supports rewarding high-performance schools but thinks the rewards should be individualized by school district.

“Glenda is for flexibility for high-performing schools, but she thinks the rewards should be based on the needs of the district and not a blanket policy. Otherwise, it’s not truly flexible,” said her spokesman, David Galvin.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the House of Representatives will work on rewarding high-performing school systems this session.

“If they’re doing a good job and we as a state recognize it as a good job,” Bosma said, “they ought to have the opportunity to have a little bit more flexibility in a lot of different areas.”

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