School officials: Waivers limit won't affect local graduation rates

A new Indiana law aimed at curbing what some legislators see as abuse of the state's waiver process should have little to no effect on graduation rates in Madison County's schools, local leaders said.

House Enrolled Act 1635, which was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in May, caps the percentage of reported graduates with waivers at 9% for 2023-24. That figure is to decline to 6% in 2024-25, then to 3% annually thereafter.

Administrators at Anderson Community Schools and South Madison Community Schools said that while the intent of the law — to crack down on instances where students use the waiver process to ensure their graduation without intending to enter military service — is understandable, neither district has come close to having waiver percentages near the threshold set by the new law.

"Our counselors routinely monitor student progress toward graduation, starting with their ninth-grade year," said Andrew Kruer, assistant superintendent at South Madison Community Schools Corp. "They do a great job working with the student and family to ensure they are on track to graduate and to provide as many options and resources for the student to find success."

According to the Indiana Department of Education, a total of 12 Pendleton Heights seniors graduated with waivers in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. Kruer said their demographics roughly matched the district's overall student population. The new law, he added, is not expected to change the district's graduation rates.

"At this point, we do not anticipate any disproportionate effects from the new legislation," he said. "We will continually monitor our data as the thresholds phase in."

At ACS, waivers have been even less common in recent years, according to district spokesman Brad Meadows. He said only one student graduated in 2021 with a waiver. He also noted that the district's waiver application process includes a minimum 2.0 GPA, attendance rate of at least 95%, and an attempt to pass one or more post-secondary readiness competency test from among the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), SAT and CTE skills assessment.

"We do not grant waivers unless there are extenuating circumstances," ACS Superintendent Joe Cronk said. "We absolutely make sure everybody has got a (graduation) pathway and everybody's on it. If there's an extenuating circumstance, then we have the waiver process. But we are well, well under what the state will allow us this year and even next year."

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.