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Students work at their desks in a classroom at Crispus Attucks High School, a public school in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Students work at their desks in a classroom at Crispus Attucks High School, a public school in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

Are Indianapolis Public Schools and charter schools on the right track? More black voters say yes.

African Americans have a rosier view of Indianapolis Public Schools and local charter schools than Marion County residents, generally. That’s the finding of a poll released Wednesday by the local news outlet IndyPolitics.org.

Of the 400 likely Marion County voters surveyed, African Americans were evenly split on whether Indianapolis Public Schools was on the “right track” (46%) or the “wrong track” (45%). Voters overall were more skeptical of the district, with only about a third of those polled saying Indianapolis Public Schools was heading in a positive direction.

Of the 31,500 students in the district, most are black and Hispanic.

The IndyPolitics poll results also mirror national trends showing racial divides in charter support. Just over half of African Americans polled felt charter schools — in Indianapolis, charters serve a similar demographic to IPS — were on the right track.

But among all those polled, which included those who live outside IPS district boundaries, there was little consensus, with 34% reporting that charter schools are on the right track and 37% saying that they are on the wrong track. Meanwhile, 28% of respondents either did not know or did not answer.

“It’s interesting just to see that disconnect,” said Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, the conservative radio host who runs the Indy Politics site. “Some people who don’t live in some of these neighborhoods aren’t seeing things the same way as people who live there.”

Local education advocates say the results should be a reminder that conversations on Indianapolis’ schools and how to improve them need to be driven by families served by those schools, not just by outside interests.

Indianapolis Public Schools has been deeply affected over the years as white Indianapolis residents moved to township or suburban districts, or opted to send their children to private schools.

Historically, the district has had some of the state’s most academically struggling schools, and it serves a large share of students from low-income families. The state rated the district as a D, largely based on test scores.

But Indianapolis Public Schools has recently attracted national attention for its “innovation schools,” which are district-charter partnerships. And last year, voters approved two school funding referendum efforts for Indianapolis Public Schools totaling $272 million, which district supporters have touted as a sweeping vote of confidence.

Indianapolis Public Schools spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black said the district appreciated the feedback, even though the poll — conducted by Mason Strategies, a polling and research company in Virginia — only sampled a small number of voters.

“What this proves is we need to have a bigger conversation about education as a whole in Marion County,” she said.

Because Indianapolis Public Schools primarily serves students of color, their families may feel stronger connections to the district and be “more confident that IPS is taking steps to address their issues of concern,” said Mark Russell, director of advocacy and family services for the Indianapolis Urban League.

The more positive support from African Americans in the poll is “good for the district, especially when you have their own consumers expressing support,” Russell said.

The poll results also show that black families may be more open to nontraditional school options such as charter schools and school vouchers.

Decisions and conversations should be based on the views of families who have “the most on-the-ground knowledge,” said Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, an influential local charter advocacy group, and examine why charter school families support those options.

“It’s not surprising that those families that are most impacted by charter schools have the most favorable views of them,” Brown said. “I hope that starts to shift the conversation around school choice and pushes all of us to have more nuance in the conversation — and to make sure we’re centering the views of people of color more than we have in the past.”

Nationally, an Education Next poll released earlier this week shows more people are opposing charter schools now than in 2016, but many people still don’t know a lot about charter schools.

Democrats are also seeing a racial divide on the issue, with white Democrats opposing charter schools, and black and Hispanic Democrats backing them, according to national data released to Chalkbeat in the spring.

The IndyPolitics poll shows roughly the same level of support for charter schools from Democrats, Republicans, and independents. But more Democrats polled oppose charter schools, while more Republicans didn’t know or didn’t answer the question.

In Indianapolis, charter schools have enjoyed strong advocacy from mayors from both political parties.

The IndyPolitics poll was conducted Aug. 11-14 and has a margin of error of 4.9%.