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'Charter shopping' bill next heads to Pence's desk

A bill that is awaiting the governor's signature would tighten some rules around charter schools
A bill that is awaiting the governor's signature would tighten some rules around charter schools
Alan Petersime

A bill that could soon be making its way to the governor’s desk would strengthen Indiana’s charter school law, proponents of the idea say, if signed by Gov. Mike Pence.

House Bill 1636 would try to stop “charter shopping,” a process whereby some charter schools with failing grades find new sponsors just before their sponsors, also called “authorizers,” force them to close. The bill, co-authored by Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, was passed by the Indiana House 74-17 today following minor technical amendments made by the senate.

Indianapolis’s deputy mayor, Jason Kloth, said if the bill is signed into law, it could make Indiana’s charter school law among the strongest in the nation, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The group ranked Indiana fifth in the nation in 2014.

“Charter school quality is directly correlated to the strength of the authorizers,” Kloth said. “House Bill 1636 will ensure that basic standards for authorizers are in place and will help to prevent charter shopping and (lead to) greater accountability for schools.”

Kloth said he hoped the bill might aid a separate effort from charter schools to persuade lawmakers to provide more money for the privately managed public schools.

While traditional public schools receive property tax dollars for building upkeep and busing, charter schools don’t.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, is among those in the legislature who have been reluctant to embrace Pence ‘s call for an extra $1,500 per student for charter schools. The budget is one of the last remaining major debates that must be resolved before the session ends next week.

Kenley said in a conference committee meeting last week that things would have to change in how charters are run before he’d endorse more money for them.

Kloth said he is hopeful the changes that Behning and Moed’s bill would bring about might help. The bill asks sponsors to outline expectations for student test scores and have plans for how to close schools that fail, he said.

“We think ultimately House Bill 1636 is going to directly address some of the quality concerns that Sen. Kenley and others have,” Kloth said, “which we hope will help eliminate some of those barriers to more equitable funding.”

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