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2024 Legislative Changes Impacting Indiana Students

by Tami Silverman, President & CEO of Indiana Youth Institute

A series of new laws took effect in Indiana on July 1 that introduced changes in the educational landscape. The highlighted legislative reforms below impact important aspects of schooling, from literacy and work-based learning opportunities to religious instruction and student cell phone use.

Third Grade Literacy Retention

The much-talked-about Senate Bill 1, often called the “Every Child Learns to Read” bill, aims to help all students become proficient readers. Starting in the 2024-25 school year, schools will be required to hold back most third graders who fail to pass the IREAD-3 state reading assessment. Those exempted from this new requirement include English language learners, students with IEPs, and those who excel in math. Additionally, the law seeks to increase support for students to establish foundational reading skills, as second graders will now undergo reading proficiency testing, and schools will be required to offer extra tutoring and summer courses to at-risk students.

The 2024 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book reveals that only one-third of Indiana fourth grade students were at or above the proficient reading level, marking a four percentage-point decrease from the 2019 rate of 37%. Among Indiana fourth graders in 2022, Black students had an average reading score that was 23 points lower than that of white students. Students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) had an average reading score 18 points lower than those not eligible for NSLP.

Strict Consequences for Chronic Absenteeism

Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) number 282 introduces stricter truancy prevention and response measures. Schools must report habitually truant students—those with 10 or more unexcused absences within a school year—to the prosecutor’s office, potentially leading to legal action against the parents. The law also mandates meetings with parents of K-6 students who have been identified as chronically absent to develop improvement plans, emphasizing accountability and proactive intervention.

In Indiana, the rate of absentee students has nearly doubled compared to the absenteeism rate before the pandemic. Nearly 1 in 5 of Indiana students were chronically absent in 2023 (19.3%) — a slight decrease from 21.2% in 2022. Looking nationally, 40.3% of Indiana parents reported their child aged 6 to 17 were always engaged in school, compared to the nationwide average of 44.1%.

Indiana College Core Diplomas

Indiana high schools are required to offer the Indiana College Core (ICC) by the 2024-2025 academic year (or submit a plan to do so by the following school year), ensuring students can earn 30 credit hours of college-level coursework transferable to any Indiana public college or university. This initiative aims to streamline the transition from high school to higher education, promoting academic advancement and reducing redundancy in coursework.

According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, dual credit earners are more likely to stay in college and complete college on time or early, and such courses provide significant cost savings to both students and taxpayers. At the same time, disparities remain when it comes to who earns dual credit, with fewer Black and Hispanic/Latino students having access to dual credit courses. Disparities also exist when looking at socioeconomic status and region of the state.

Expansion of Work-Based Learning

More high school students will now have access to work-based learning opportunities through the Career Scholarship Account (CSA) program, as expanded by House Enrolled Act (HEA) number 1001. The $5,000 scholarships cover expenses like training, career coaching, driver’s education, and certification exams. This initiative aims to better prepare students for the workforce by facilitating internships, apprenticeships, and other practical learning experiences.  In a survey conducted by American Student Assistance, 79 percent of high school students expressed interest in participating in work-based learning experiences, but only 34 percent were aware of any opportunities within their age group.

Support for Students with Disabilities and Their Siblings

HEA 1001 also expands the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program, allowing siblings of students with disabilities to qualify for their own ESAs. This expansion aims to alleviate an identified financial burden on families with such characteristics, ensuring comprehensive support for all children with educational needs.

Mandatory Religious Instruction Time

Schools will now be required to permit students to attend religious instruction for up to two hours per week if their parents submit a formal request to the principal. Previously, this was at the discretion of the schools, but the new law mandates compliance, reflecting a shift towards prioritizing parental choice in religious education.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center (2019) found that most public school students commonly observed religious expression and activities by fellow students. The five most frequent activities observed were the wearing of religious clothing or jewelry, praying before a sporting event, inviting other students to youth groups or services, praying before eating lunch, and reading religious scripture during the school day.

Cell Phone Use Restrictions

SEA 185 increases restrictions on student use of wireless communication devices during instructional time, a response to the need to ensure students develop healthy practices in their technology use, as identified through research and outreach efforts by organizations such as Common Sense. Unless the use is permitted by a teacher for educational purposes, in emergencies, or as specified in a student’s Individualized Education Plan, K-12 students will be prohibited from using cell phones, tablets, computers, and gaming devices during instructional time. To ensure transparency and consistency across school districts, schools also will be required to publish their policies online.

These legislative changes reflect a comprehensive effort to enhance educational standards, ensure student safety, and support diverse learning needs. As these laws come into effect, Indiana schools, parents, and students will need to adapt to the new requirements, with the ultimate goal of fostering a more conducive and inclusive learning environment.