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State board ready to roll out new state charter school grant program

Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.
Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.
Alan Petersime

The Indiana State Board of Education is expected to consider details of a new state-funded charter school grant program on Wednesday that would give more than $10 million to schools enrolling a total of almost 22,000 students across the state this year.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the new grant and loan program into law this year as part of the new two-year state budget, which began July 1, after requests from schools for extra dollars to support busing, technology and building maintenance. Charter schools do not receive local property taxes that go toward those areas in public school districts. The new budget also excluded charter schools from additional funding for English language learners.

“Public charter schools are critical to expanding public school options for Hoosier families in areas where choices are needed most,” Pence said in a statement from the state board. “I am pleased that the grants I signed into law earlier this year will help to make funding for all students more equitable.”

Charter schools have expanded rapidly since the 2011 law passed that made them possible. By 2017, Indianapolis could see as many as nine new schools open.

But schools must meet certain requirements before they can qualify for the $500 per-student grants, which would total about $20 million over the next two years. That’s considerably less than the $1,500 per-student grant proposed in earlier drafts of the state’s budget, but it’s the first charter school-focused extra aid to be added to the school funding system.

To qualify for an automatic grant this fall, charter schools must meet one of the following conditions:

  • Earn an A, B or C letter grade from the state.
  • Be in their first or second year of operation.
  • Enroll a large amount of students with special needs.
  • Be located in an “innovation network,” such a one run by Indianapolis Public Schools.

If a charter school is rated a D or F, it can still qualify for a grant if its grade is equal to or higher than that of the closest traditional public school for the past two years. Charter schools that didn’t receive letter grades, perhaps because they had very small enrollments, also are eligible for the funds.

Applications for the loan program are due to the state board by Oct. 15. The state board may only make a maximum of $50 million in loans over the next two years. Schools may not receive a loan of more than $5 million.

Concerns were raised earlier this year by State Superintendent Glenda Ritz about the specific purpose of extra grants for charter schools. Ritz said the money should be directed specifically to capital or transportation needs, not simply funneled in the school’s general fund that also supports teacher salaries and classroom materials.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, also said in the same meeting before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, that charter schools’ state letter grades should be taken into account before funding was increased. The new state budget includes language that accounts for Ritz and Kenley’s concerns.

Of the 56 schools the board will consider for the grants Wednesday, 32 are located in Indianapolis.

Five of the 32 are rated a D, but could still earn a grant since they are ranked better than the nearest traditional public school. Eleven of the Indianapolis charter schools on the list are rated an A or B.

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