The Indiana State Board of Education is moving forward with forming a committee that is expected to look closely into how virtual charter schools are regulated.
The step comes nearly five months after Gov. Eric Holcomb called for “immediate attention and action” on Indiana’s subpar online charter schools. Board member Gordon Hendry will lead the committee, which represents the state’s first move to give the schools more oversight since a Chalkbeat investigation of Indiana Virtual School last year revealed how state law doesn’t go far enough to hold operators and authorizers of online charter schools accountable.
“I’ve been disappointed with performance (of virtual charters schools),” Hendry said. “Our taxpayers are spending tens of millions of dollars each year to educate the students in virtual charters. I think we owe it to ourselves to ensure we’re doing everything possible to make that happen.”
The resolution proposed by board member Gordon Hendry was approved by an 8-0 vote on Wednesday.
So far, lawmakers have been hesitant to to take decisive action regarding virtual charter schools. This year, the legislature killed three bills that would have regulated charter schools, though they didn’t specifically address virtual charter schools. Seven virtual charter schools are operating in Indiana this year, serving about 12,000 students across the state.
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Hendry said board members Cari Whicker and Maryanne McMahon, both public school administrators, already offered to be on the committee. It’s not clear how often they would meet.
Three board members, including state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, were not present to vote.
Hendry and board member B.J. Watts said they wanted board member Byron Ernest, the former head of three virtual charter schools, in the state to weigh-in on the committee’s future conversations because of his experience leading Hoosier Academies, a post he left last fall.
But the schools’ history with the state board has been fraught at times. In 2015, Hoosier Academy Virtual, then one of the largest full-time online charter schools in the state, reached its limit for consecutive F grades. After several hearings over more than two years, the state board finally decided to impose a fairly lenient punishment.
Just a couple months later, the school’s own board voted to close at the end of this year.
Hendry said both local and national problems with online charter schools prompted him to propose the resolution.
“It’s my intent to spend the next four to six months really delving into the issues,” Hendry said. “And making some recommendations for both this board as well as the General Assembly to consider.”
Read more of Chalkbeat’s coverage of online schools.
This story has been corrected to reflect that board member Byron Ernest was present for the vote.