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Lawmakers begin the 2019 session in January.

Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat

IPS plans to fight back against state takeover in 2015

Charter Schools USA, the company running three of Indianapolis Public Schools’ former middle and high schools in state takeover, wants to expand those schools to serve younger children.

IPS’s goal is to stop them, and they hope legislators will help.

Board members met Wednesday to prepare a lobbying strategy for the Indiana General Assembly’s session that begins in January. Chief among them: reining in the state takeover process.

Lobbyists from Indianapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels say they would also advocate for stable funding for IPS and an expansion of state-funded preschool.

“We want to be very strategic and very focused,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told school board members at a meeting tonight. “This is a significant session.”

Ferebee said he was taken aback after learning at a state board meeting earlier this month that CSUSA hoped to expand its current takeover schools — Howe and Manual High Schools and Emma Donnan Middle School  — to also serve elementary students. He said it seemed like an “overt” strategy simply to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know where it will go, but when you have those types of proposals put forth, we need to be prepared to present our own information … of what we believe is appropriate and not appropriate,” Ferebee said. “The whole takeover reform has been problematic. We’re at a pivotal time when we need to get more details, more meat on the bones, of what’s the role of the takeover providers and what’s the role of the district. We’re willing to have that conversation, but we need all the cards on the table.” 

IPS lobbyist Libby Cierzniak said expansions to allow state takeover operators to serve more grade levels could drastically impact the district.

“(CSUSA) also offered to take over Arlington (High School),” Cierzniak said. “Right now, there are 22 IPS boundary schools that feed into the four takeover schools. If these are expanded, IPS will be put in a position where it will have to close schools.”

IPS also will seek to keep its funding levels stable as the next two-year state budget is passed next year. Republicans have already announced that they plan to increase education funding and to narrow the gap between the larger amount districts serving large numbers of poor children receive compared to other districts.

IPS ranks in the top 20 school districts in the state for per-student funding since most of its students are poor enough to qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, according to Faegre Baker Daniels.

“Because IPS is one of the highest poverty school districts in the state, this is going to be a huge issue for IPS this session,” Cierzniak said.

The lobbyists said they will continue to push for an expansion of the state’s new preschool pilot program. Gov. Mike Pence pushed for the program’s approval earlier this year, and told Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully earlier this week that he planned to seek $10 million more for the pilot program next year.

“Early education continues to be an issue we want to see addressed,” Ferebee said. “We know we have a significant number of students who enter IPS in Kindergarten without that early education experience. We believe an opportunity to have preschool will pay dividends.”