Senate passes charter expansion bill
By Chelsea Schneider Kirk firstname.lastname@example.org April 12, 2011 5:18PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
INDIANAPOLIS — A bill regarded as a significant overhaul to Indiana’s charter school law passed the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill seeks to make it more accessible for a charter school to open its doors and expands the number of charter school sponsors in the state to private universities and a new state commission.
Currently, the Indianapolis mayor’s office, public universities and school corporations can sponsor charters. However, Ball State University is the only university in the state to ever do so.
Proponents of the legislation also contend it creates higher accountability measures for charter schools and their sponsors.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said the chamber had received, “a charter school bill gone wild” from the House. Rogers, who voted against the bill, said the Senate made changes in its attempts to tame the bill. But she was still concerned about the requirements the bill sets forward for a traditional public school to convert into a charter.
Rogers said the school’s teachers wouldn’t have a vote in the process. Instead, the Senate version of the bill requires 51 percent of the school’s parents to vote for conversion.
“When the bill got to the floor of the Senate we took the teachers out of the process,” Rogers said, “which I consider to be unneeded, unfair and insulting.”
Speaking in support of the bill, state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, recalled a visit to Gary’s Thea Bowman Leadership Academy.
“Every kid was positive. Every teacher was positive,” Kenley said. “This is just an alternative for kids in a different setting. Sometimes the traditional public school doesn’t meet the needs of all of our kids. We live in a very diverse society.”
Northwest Indiana superintendents have aired concerns over the bill.
The bill troubles Portage Township Schools Superintendent Michael Berta because he felt the legislation didn’t present any evidence that a charter school would improve teaching and learning.
“It’s a misconception to portray charter schools as the panacea to improving teaching and learning,” Berta said. “A charter school in itself does not result in improved teaching and learning. A charter school should be profiled for what it is — a choice.”
Berta felt the bill would further squeeze traditional public schools’ budgets.
“On the financial end, it doesn’t make any sense as a public school official to see dollars that are dedicated to educating students in K-12 public schools potentially diverted into the concept of the charter school,” Berta said. “We are already challenged with our budgets.”
The bill would also allow charter schools to lease or purchase a vacant public school building for $1. That provision could impact the Gary Community School Corp., with its large stock of vacant schools. Yet, Rogers said the bill protects Gary public schools because it has a built in a two-year window prior to the lease or purchase of a building.
“At first when it came over from the House, the way the process would work if there was an unused building they would send it to the state, and state would put it on a list,” Rogers said, “and charter schools could decide which schools to rent or lease. So some of the traditional schools might be unused, but they might have a future use for it.”
Indiana Public Charter Schools Association President Russ Simnick contends the vacant buildings should be available to charter schools because they were built with public dollars with the intended use of a school building.
“In larger, urban areas with shifting population and declining enrollment, a lot of them are sitting there,” Simnick said.
The bill passed on a 29-20 vote with several Northwest Indiana legislators voting against its passage, including state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, and state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.