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Judge Hears Arguments In Indiana School Voucher Suit

A judge is expected to rule within 30 days whether Indiana’s new school voucher program violates the state constitution.

The program allows income-eligible parents of public school students to use taxpayer funds to send their children to private schools.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Michael Keele heard arguments today in a suit backed by the Indiana State Teachers Association. It claims that the law violates the state constitutional by allowing public funds to be sent to religious institutions.

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JCPS Annual School Showcase Begins This Week

Jefferson County Public Schools’ annual school showcase for middle and high schools kicks off this week.

The showcase allows parents and students entering new schools to get more information about what the district offers. Each school sets up information booths and parents can meet school staff and ask about curriculum.

“Parents we always have one thought and children always have another and they both get an opportunity to look at what they think they want or want to do and then they may decide something altogether differently,” said Bernadette Hamilton who has helped put together the showcase for the past two decades. This year, the district has changed the format this year, she said.

“We separated it this year because of other things we are working on mainly the new student assignment plan and we didn’t want to pass out information that may not be correct at this particular time,” Hamilton said.

The elementary school showcase will be held in January. By that time decisions about the JCPS student assignment plan should be made, she said.

The JCPS middle and high school showcase will be at the Kentucky International Convention Center on Friday, Oct. 21, from 3-7 p.m.; and Saturday, Oct. 22, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

A similar showcase, for elementary schools, will be held at the convention center on Saturday, Jan. 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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JCPS Behind on College and Career Ready Goals

Jefferson County Public Schools has not met college and career readiness goals, joining 40 percent of school districts around Kentucky; but communication between students and the state has improved and now has a single focus.

This year’s new accountability system will focus on whether students are ready for life after high school. For some that means college; for others it means work. Students who are college and career ready are proficient on state-wide tests or earn a certificate from certain industry-related programs. School districts are expected to increase student readiness rates 50 percent over a 5-year period.

In Kentucky, 60 percent of schools have met their goals this year. Dr. Sue Cain is with the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education, which gave input on what it means to be college and career ready.

“It is so systemic. It is so ‘on the ground’ level right now, that we will go up. I have no doubt in my mind that we will go forward,” said Cain.

Cain said it wasn’t always obvious what students were expected to know and communication between the council, the state’s education department and the schools has improved. This has led to an increase in student success, she said.

“We are now intentionally making sure that there is an understanding and a real highway of ideas going back between K-12 and post-secondary so we can close this college and career readiness gap,” Cain said.

JCPS has increased its rate of students who are college and career ready and now stands at 33 percent, but that is still short of its 38 percent goal for this year. It must reach a final goal of 66 percent by the 2014-2015 school year.

Kentucky adopted the new accountability system this year. It is among several initiatives in place to improve success.

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Local News Politics

Pro-Voucher Parents Want To Intervene In Suit

Two parents of Indianapolis school children want to voice their opposition– in court–to a lawsuit challenging Indiana’s new school voucher program.

The Indiana General Assembly approved the program, now the country’s largest, earlier this year.

It allows parents who meet income guidelines to use public funds for private school tuition if they’re not satisfied with the public school system.

Opponents, including the state teachers union, want a judge to declare it an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state, since many private schools have a religious affiliation. They also argue that it will siphon millions of dollars away from an already financially-strapped public school system.

The two pro-voucher parents are represented by attorney Bert Gall of the Virginia-based Institute for Justice. He says the constitutional argument has no merit, as public funds are widely used for higher education at private institutions.

“it is so sweeping in its scope that it would render all sorts of students assistance programs unconstitutional. For example, you couldn’t get a public scholarship to attend Notre Dame, yet there are several programs that are exactly like that,” he said.

Gall says his clients want to intervene in the suit in time for a hearing next month on the lawsuits’ request for an injunction.

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Senate President Wants to Abolish Jefferson County School Board

Senate President and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams has suggested abolishing the Jefferson County School Board. Williams made his comments Tuesday to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

The school board is not diverse enough for the size of Jefferson County, said Williams. The influence of teacher’s unions, poor policy and poor test results within the county are reasons for change, he said.

“They continue to raise taxes, they continue to misspend money and they continue to get bad results,” said Williams.

Under his plan, the mayor would recommend the superintendent to the Metro Council, which would approve the appointment and act as the legislative body for Jefferson County schools.

Steve Imhoff is the chair of the Jefferson County School Board. He said Williams’s interest is in his run for Governor.

“That’s why he made those comments. He thinks he can pick up some extra votes in Jefferson County by making those comments,” Imhoff said.

Williams said he has begun to draft legislation for the change. He previously proposed legislation that would effectively end the JCPS student assignment plan.

With a budget of $1 billion dollars, JCPS is larger than Metro Government.

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Local News Politics

Teachers Union Challenges Indiana School Voucher Law

A lawsuit has been filed that seeks to block Indiana’s new school voucher law.

The Indiana State Teachers Association says the lawsuit was filed in Marion County on Friday, the day the new law took effect. Union spokesman Mark Shoup says the more than 10 plaintiffs include teachers, school administrators, clergy and taxpayers.

The suit argues the voucher law violates state constitutional provisions that safeguard taxpayers from supporting religious institutions, ministries and places of worship.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly this spring approved the nation’s broadest private school voucher plan. It was signed into law by GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels on May 5.

State schools superintendent Tony Bennett says the lawsuit was expected. He says he’s confident the courts will agree the law is constitutional and in the best interests of Indiana students.

Daniels issued this statement in response to the suit:

“There the union goes again, putting their financial self-interest ahead of the interests of children and Indiana’s low-income families.

The bill was drafted from its inception with the state and federal constitutional law in mind. This suit will lose as emphatically as their recent school funding suit did.”

The governor is referencing the Bonner v. Daniels case about school funding.

(Some of the information for this story came from the Associated Press)

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First Superintendent Candidate Answers Public Questions, Some Disappointed in Event

The first superintendent candidate for Jefferson County Public Schools answered questions from the public tonight at Male High School.

Dr. Christine Johns-Haines is currently superintendent of Utica Community Schools in Michigan but says she is excited about the resources available in Louisville.  The questions ranged from bullying and busing to student assignment plans and discipline issues, but Johns-Haines maintained her case-by-case approach towards most issues.

“Let me say this up front, I don’t believe in just adopting programs, there is no silver bullet to fix the problems of schools.”

Johns-Haines emphasized the need to review each issue in depth and make decisions later and refrained from offering many proposals regarding specific issues.

At the forum, Johns-Haines was asked about her budget cutting habits, which she said shouldn’t carry over into Louisville because the funding processes here are different from Utica’s funding. However, she says she is equipped to make hard decisions.

“The hard decisions are having to make those budgetary decisions while trying to protect the academic programs in our schools for our children” says Johns-Haines “so that we don’t get caught with the state trying to take over our schools because they’re not adequately meeting yearly goals or they’re not performing.”

But Jefferson County Teacher’s Association Board Member, Jennifer Alexander, says she was disappointed in the turnout for the event.

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Local News Next Louisville Politics

Indiana Senate Passes School Voucher Bill

The Indiana Senate has approved a plan to create a statewide school voucher program.

The Republican-led chamber voted 28-22 today to advance the bill, which is the most contentious part of GOP Governor Mitch Daniels’ extensive education agenda.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Inidana School Districts Faced with More Cuts

School districts throughout Indiana are now looking harder at making cuts after Governor Mitch Daniels stepped up the timetable for reducing the education budget by 3.5 percent. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

Indiana districts expected to have 18 months to cut their budgets. But the Governor now says districts will have to absorb a $300 million cut over 12 months beginning in January.

For the New Albany – Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation, it means a $2.5 million cut. This is after it has already cut $2.1 million from its budget for the next two years.

Superintendent Bruce Hibbard says the district is looking at cutting several areas and even the efficiency of running 13 elementary schools.

“It gives us the opportunity to really change things and I’m looking for win-wins — how we can enhance the academic side and yet stay within the budget,” he says.

The state has provided districts with a list [pdf] of possible places to make cuts. It includes cuts to benefits and travel budgets. And State Superintendent Tony Bennett says he believes districts can make the cuts without teacher layoffs.

“We hope that local communities will have that discussion about the importance of making sacrifices to keep teachers working,” Bennet says.

Hibbard says this situation comes at a very challenging time for education in this country.

“In the year 2014, every student is supposed to be proficient or at standard,” Hibbard says. “You have that working as well as a budget situation that we’re actually going to be taking resources away from our schools.”

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Arts and Humanities Local News WFPL News Department Podcast

House Bill on Education Concerns Arts Advocates

The Kentucky House of Representatives will consider a bill this week to revamp the state’s student testing system. Some say it could weaken arts and humanities instruction. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

House Bill 508 is a response to Senate Bill 1. Both would overhaul testing in public schools to improve school, student and teacher performance.

Some arts advocates and educators aren’t happy with either bill because both do away with testing on the arts and humanities. They also say the House bill, which offers criteria for reviewing schools’ arts and humanities programs, is too vague.

David Cupps of the advocacy group Arts Kentucky says the legislation doesn’t ensure that students will get arts and humanities instruction.

“There’s so many issues that they’re trying to solve with this legislation that it’s easy for the arts to get lost or for them not to completely get all the language in there that they need to,” Cupps says.

Many educators and lawmakers say the current testing system is too time consuming and does not offer constructive information.

Cupps says instruction in the arts and humanities should be mandatory and that any program evaluation should guarantee schools are adequatly teaching these subjects.

“We are suggesting that if they’re not going to have it in the testing — of course, we would like some testing in there — but if it’s not going to be part of the testing, then this program evaluation could still be part of the accountability matrix that they are being held accountable for,” Cupps says.