Indiana News

Charter Schools Could Be The New Educational Battle Ground

As Indiana awaits a court ruling on school vouchers, some are critical of the expansion of charter schools


Mayor Greg Ballard's cache of charter schools is growing ( file photo)

While the state awaits a decision from the Indiana Supreme Court on the legality of its school voucher program, the new education battle ground may be charter schools.

Listen to Ray Steele's report:

Charter schools are funded by tax dollars, though at lower levels per student than traditional public schools. They are operated by outside companies, some for-profit, some not-for-profit. The for-profit operators especially wrankle opponents of charters, who argue that tax dollars that could be going to public schools are ciphoned off instead to out-of-state companies.

City-County Councilor Jose Evans is pushing for a moratorium on new charter schools in Indianapolis. The mayor's office sponsors several charter schools under an arrangment unique to Indiana - it began doing so under Mayor Bart Peterson in 2001. But Evans says he has heard from several parents whose children had problems with charter schools.  "Let's just say that my son or daughter is not able to fit in with the charter school, then they're out. Then they go back to the public school they used to go to, but the money doesn't follow the student," causing Indianapolis Public Schools or whichever system the students attend to be shortchanged, in Evans' opinion.

Evans's call for a halt to the expansion of the mayor's sponsored schools likely will get nowhere, especially if a bill in the Legislature becomes law. It would strip the City-Council Council of veto authority over any of the mayor's decisions regarding charter schools. Evans claims the bill arose after he started asking "tough questions" of the mayor's office about charter schools. Mayor Ballard has said the bill was not part of his legislative agenda.

Marc Lotter, the mayor's director of communications, says Ballard's sole focus is on providing a high quality education to as many students as possible. Ballard's office already sponsors 22 charter schools serving almost 9,000 students. It will add another eleven schools over the next two years - seven were approved by the council, and the other four are former IPS schools that were taken over by the state this school year due to years of poor performance.

Lotter says all of the mayor's sponsored schools received grades no lower than C from the state Department of Education last year, putting them in line with many public school systems. A proposal from Ballard to overhaul or create enough space for 30,000 "quality seats" in schools is also a finalist for an award of up to $5 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Lotter says the mayor is not trying to compete with public schools, though supporters of charter schools often say the competition should lead to better public school systems.

The school board in Fort Wayne does not buy that argument. It voted six-to-one this week to ask that no additional charter schools be approved within the Fort Wayne Community Schools district, the largest school district in Indiana. Board president Mark GiaQuinta says three charter schools operated by Ball State University in Fort Wayne were among those who had their charters revoked. Now, charter operator Carpe Diem wants to open a new school in Fort Wayne, and GiaQuinta says that will cost his school district money - roughly five-thousand dollars for every student Fort Wayne schools lose. GiaQuinta says he doesn't see the need for additional school choice since Fort Wayne is already a "choice district" - parents are allowed to send their children to any school within the district.



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