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State withdraws charter for network that Tony Bennett pushed for

Alan Petersime

Former state Superintendent Tony Bennett and his team wanted BASIS charter schools to come to the Hoosier state so badly they put on a full-court press in 2011 to change state law to make locating in Indiana easier for the national network, and others like it.

But after all of that, BASIS has yet to open a school in Indiana, and the Indiana Charter School Board voted today to withdraw the charter it awarded the company because there still is no plan in place for the school to launch. Board members said they hoped BASIS might reconsider Indiana again in the future.
“They are a high-performing charter network that was hoping to expand in several regions,” said Emily Richardson, director of legal affairs and policy for the state cchool board. “In our recent communications with them, they have indicated that Indiana was not in their plans for the next few years. That raises concerns as to their application and school model … whether what we initially awarded to them will be the same as what will open.”

BASIS stalled its plans to open a school in Indianapolis partly due to concerns about teacher licensing in the state and per-pupil funding levels, Richardson said.

“We have one of the most flexible teacher licensing systems in the nation,” Richardson said. “We have reassured them on that front. Our per-pupil funding rate is lower. Their funding would come in at around $6,500 per student, which is a little bit lower than they like to see.”

But BASIS spokesman Phil Handler said Indiana’s per-pupil funding model is the primary reason why it cancelled its plans in Indiana. He said Indiana’s teacher licensing rules did not factor into the decision.

“We will continue to evaluate opportunities to open a BASIS charter school in Indiana,” Handler said in a statement. “But the funding mechanism here in Arizona is lean — and in Indiana, it is much leaner. As such, we have no concrete plans in Indiana right now.”

During the 2011 legislative session, Indiana education officials pushed to loosen teacher licensing rules for charter schools, with Bennett arguing that Indiana would not be able to recruit some of the best charter schools, which he said produce impressive academic results without always using traditionally licensed teachers.

The Arizona-based for-profit network BASIS, was a prime example.
To lure BASIS — the network operates 15 schools in Arizona, Washington D.C. and Texas — Bennett and his supporters shepherded through a 2011 law that allows some charter school teachers to avoid certification, instead requiring a bachelor’s degree, content expertise, and that their new employers provide basic teacher training on the job.

Only 10 ten percent of a charter’s full-time teaching staff can be licensed this way unless it receives a waiver from the state, according to Indiana code. The rest of a charter school’s full-time teachers need to either have state teacher certification or be on the path to receiving it.

BASIS, founded in a state with among the loosest teacher licensing rules, applied and was approved for its Indiana charter shortly after. But BASIS Indianapolis, which aimed to provide an accelerated liberal arts education to 700 middle and high schoolers in Northwest Indianapolis, never open as planned that next fall.

In Indiana, the debate over teacher licensing is ongoing. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who defeated Bennett in 2012, along with the state’s largest teachers union vehemently oppose loosening requirements for licenses. They say that plans to allow college graduates to teach if they have earned a 3.0 grade point average and have about three years experience in a field related to their subject area provided they can pass a content exam could lead to less qualified teachers.

Proponents say students can benefit from teachers who have recent experience in the field and who can apply subjects like math to the real world.
State charter board chair Maureen Weber called the withdrawal of BASIS’ charter the “less happy news” of the day — the board also approved the expansion of a Carpe Diem charter school.

The organization had high expectations for its Indianapolis school, according to its original application.

“It is not hard to imagine a school where the students are held to the highest possible academic standards, where they are asked to take responsibility for their own work, and where the teachers are both highly qualified and motivated to help students in any way possible,” according to the application. “Yet imagining this kind of school is not enough. At BASIS, we bring these ideas to life every day.”

BASIS schools also have faced criticism from those who say the students are tested too much, and from those who question the network’s decision to allow a for-profit company to manage its finances, saying that blocks the transparency needed from those in the business of educating children.

Board member Virginia Calvin said she was not worried about the network eventually resubmitting an application to the board.

“They make a valid point in terms of the per-pupil (allocation),” Calvin said. “We can’t ignore that as Hoosiers. If they’re rated as outstanding, they’ll be back.”

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