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Schools across IPS are facing budget cuts. Here’s how they will (and won’t) hit innovation schools.

School 15 has long struggled with low test scores, but community leaders say they have a plan to help turn the school around.
Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School
Dylan Peers McCoy

In the face of a substantial deficit, the state’s largest district is planning broad cuts that will be felt at the vast majority of schools. But some will be insulated from those losses: a handful of innovation schools.

Over the last three years, Indianapolis Public School leaders have radically transformed the district by adding innovation schools, which are run in partnership with charter or nonprofit operators. By this fall, there will be 20 of the schools, which are under the district umbrella but have their funding determined by multi-year contracts.

The different terms of those agreements mean that even among innovation schools, the district’s plan to cut about $22.4 million from its spending will have significantly different impacts. At some innovation schools, budgets will be hit just as hard as they are at traditional schools. But at others, students and teachers likely won’t feel the painful cuts.

Here’s a look at what schools and services may get hit and why:

Some innovation schools will be hit as hard as traditional schools.

Innovation schools that are funded in the same way as the district’s traditional schools will likely feel a hit. That includes five schools that used to be traditional magnet and neighborhood campuses before voluntarily converting to innovation status, such as the Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School and Edison School of the Arts. Conversion schools are often relatively high performing, they do not have charters, and the principals and many of the educators typically remain after they convert to innovation status.

Under the terms of their contracts, their funding is largely determined by the same rules used for other district schools. Much of their funding comes through the district’s student-based allocation formula, which gives schools money based on how many students they enroll, with extra money for children from low-income families. The district also has a separate pool of money for magnet programs such as Edison.

The district is planning to cut budgets for schools and certified staff by about $8.9 million next year in part by slashing student based allocations. That money will come from the budgets of the five innovation conversion schools and traditional district schools alike.

Some schools will be spared from the pain.

There are some innovation schools that aren’t likely to see notable cuts. Those are charter schools that are in the innovation network but receive few services from the district, such as Herron High School and Purdue Polytechnic High Schools.

Some innovation schools have a very close bond with the district, because they were formerly traditional public schools and they continue to use district buildings and rely on Indianapolis Public Schools services. Others, however, operate more like independent charter schools. Herron, for example, was a successful charter school long before joining the innovation network. Purdue opened as an innovation school, but it is not in an IPS building and it does not use most district services.

For charter schools, the contracts typically call for Indianapolis Public Schools to pass on a set amount of state funding or the average amount the district receives per student. The specific amount or method for calculating it is outlined in the agreement, and district officials cannot summarily cut funding in the face of a budget crunch.

Charter schools generally receive less money than traditional district schools because they do not get funding from property taxes. But some innovation charter schools receive services paid for by property taxes.

Cuts to special education and English language learner services will hit innovation schools too.

The five innovation conversion schools, along with a handful of others, rely on Indianapolis Public Schools for services for students in special education and English language learners. The district plans to cut $2.75 million from special education and English language learners, and some innovation schools that receive those services might see the effects in their classrooms.

But there are also about a dozen charter schools in the innovation network, including failing schools that were restarted as charter schools and those that opened as charter schools. For the most part, those schools are responsible for educating students with special needs and English language learners on their own, although Indianapolis Public Schools provides services to some buildings.

What about busing?

One service where cuts could be felt across the district is transportation. The vast majority of the innovation schools receive busing from the district, including transportation to and from school and for extracurricular activities and field trips. Some schools pay for this service, while the district uses property tax revenue to foot the bill at others.

Indianapolis Public Schools has especially high transportation costs, and the administration plans to cut $1.5 million from the transportation budget next year by reducing busing for field trips and after-school activities.

Innovation schools that don’t use busing from the district, however, won’t have to deal with those cuts.

Even if they lose money, innovation schools are in a different position.

Even at innovation schools that are funded using the same formula as traditional district campuses, principals have more control over how they spend their money and staff their buildings. Because most of their teachers are employed by the charter operator or nonprofit, they are not bound by the district teachers contract. While traditional schools face wage and hiring freezes, innovation school leaders will be able to make their own decisions about teacher pay and hiring — although many will also face budget pressures.

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