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Private schools seeking relief from years of bad grades met with rejection from Indiana State Board

Three private schools with a history of poor state grades lost the chance Wednesday to accept new voucher students.

The schools’ requests to take advantage of a new Indiana law failed in an Indiana State Board of Education vote.

Central Christian Academy, Turning Point School and Lutheran South Unity School had submitted requests to the state board to waive consequences of consecutive years of D or F grades so they could accept new voucher students this fall. A new law passed late last month now allows the state board to consider such waivers for private schools that can still show their students have made improvement academically.

Although five board members approved the requests and three were opposed, state board statute says six “yes” votes are needed for a vote to go through. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and fellow board members Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager were opposed. Vince Bertram was absent.

John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, said the three schools were the inspiration behind the new law.

“If there are any schools that are going to meet the criteria of that bill, it was those schools,” Elcesser said. “The schools have dramatically improved their grades.”

Before lawmakers passed House Bill 1384 last month, schools with three consecutive years of Ds or Fs would have been barred from accepting new voucher students until their grades were a “C” or better for two years. The three schools in question have had just one year of better grades.

Some board members were concerned that just one year of better grades might not be enough proof that the schools have changed long-term. The law doesn’t clearly state what “academic improvement” must mean.

“We don’t have that two-year data to tell this board that this isn’t just a one-year blip,” Hendry said.

According to state board spokesman Josh Gillespie, the new law doesn’t indicate how soon — or whether — schools could return to the board and resubmit their requests for waivers.

“I’m not sure how soon they could return,” Gillespie said in an email. “But it appears as if they could.”