An Indianapolis charter school system’s nonrefundable fee, due at the time of enrollment, has sparked questions from the mayor’s office and public education advocates who say it may violate the spirit of Indiana law requiring public charter schools to be free, open enrollment institutions.
An enrollment form for Indiana Math and Science Academy’s North campus states that a $25 nonrefundable fee, required before students can start classes, will go toward the school’s costs for classroom supplies.
Charter schools, like public schools, are not allowed to require enrollment fees of their students. However, they are allowed to charge fees for books, uniforms, supplies and other costs.
After inquiries to Mayor Greg Ballard’s office, a city official said the form would change.
“We would like schools to make it clear that fees are separate from the enrollment process,” said Brandon Brown, the city’s director of charter schools.
Ballard sponsors more than 20 charter schools in the city including the Indiana Math and Science Academy schools, which are run by Chicago-based Concept Schools.
Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, a group that opposes charter schools and other education reforms, posted Wednesday on Facebook about the issue. MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger, an Indianapolis attorney and public schools supporter, said she was afraid that charging a fee at the time of enrollment might keep low-income families from signing up.
“For some families who are extremely low income, they don’t have that money,” Schlegel Ruegger said. “It would keep them from enrolling. If they are really trying to reach an underserved population, they shouldn’t be asking for any money until a few weeks before the new school year.”
After Chalkbeat asked the mayor’s office about the form, Brown said he spoke with the charter school’s superintendent and “strongly encouraged him” to change it to reflect the fact that fee waivers were available to families experiencing financial hardship.
Brown said he also verified that paying the $25 fee was not a requirement of enrollment.
“My biggest concern would be that the fee is not a condition of enrollment,” Brown said. “The theory behind (the school) charging the fee is to try to invest the families and make sure they’re able to track enrollment. As long as the school is following the open enrollment policy, we don’t dictate exactly what the fees look like.”
Indiana Math and Science Academy Superintendent John Aytekin did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Brown said the city would monitor the situation to make sure that all families are able to enroll in the school.
“It’s something we’ll discuss internally,” Brown said. “If there is evidence that families are dissuaded from enrollment, it’s something we’d have a conversation with the school about.”