Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Without Federal Grant Money, Turnaround Operator Could Pull Out Of Arlington

Glenda Ritz, left, answers questions about federal School Improvement Grant money at the June State Board of Education meeting. The CEO of the company running Arlington High School in Indianapolis says SIG money will be critical to a successful turnaround.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Glenda Ritz, left, answers questions about federal School Improvement Grant money at the June State Board of Education meeting. The CEO of the company running Arlington High School in Indianapolis says SIG money will be critical to a successful turnaround.

The CEO of the Indianapolis-based company now running Arlington High School says without federal money earmarked for school improvement, EdPower might not be able to continue its work at the state takeover school.

“I would have to fundraise,” Marcus Robinson told the State Board of Education Monday.

EdPower took over a struggling Arlington High School last summer from Indianapolis Public Schools. But many of the students who attended Arlington in 2011-12 opted to remain in the district, partially because of an aggressive IPS attendance campaign.

The school opened in August with around 500 students, down from a peak of 1,200 the year before. Enrollment had dropped to 421 by the end of the school year.

Still, Robinson says EdPower is on track to turn the school around by 2016, the deadline set two years ago ago when the state intervened for low test scores. But Robinson told the board without adequate funding, his group won’t be able to get the job done.

At issue is distribution of federal School Improvement Grant money, which is designated for school turnaround efforts at schools that received a D or an F from the state. That money didn’t come until mid-summer last year, but Robinson told the State Board by this time last year the Department of Education had given him an idea of how much support his organization could expect to receive.

That hasn’t happened yet this year, Robinson says. A representative from EdisonLearning, the company now in charge of Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy in Gary, confirmed that former superintendent Tony Bennett’s administration had provided takeover operators a funding estimate in May last year.

But Superintendent Glenda Ritz says her office is still trying to work out a discrepancy with the U.S. Department of Education over how much SIG funding Indiana will receive. She says the schools that received money in 2012-13 won’t necessary be the same schools next year.

The three companies started last school year flush with cash, but flagging enrollment has already lowered the amount of money EdPower and other turnaround operators have to run the state takeover schools. Then a judge ruled the turnaround operators couldn’t be paid for students who attended the schools in 2011-12 and have since left for other schools in Indianapolis and Gary.

That’s why EdPower needs federal SIG money to run Arlington. Robinson says the school employs mostly young, inexperienced teachers who will need professional development to successfully change the school’s culture.

Pulling out as a school turnaround operator is a possibility for EdPower, which also operates the Tindley Charter Network. The company would have to give the state 60 days notice if it wanted to leave Arlington.

Tony Walker, who represents Gary on the State Board, urged fellow board members not to think of funding as money flowing to EdPower or the other companies running the state takeover schools, but as providing the resources the schools need to succeed.

“We have jurisdiction over these schools,” says Walker. “We’re the ones that will be judged by the success or failure of this project.”

The State Board voted unanimously Monday to keep funding for the five turnaround schools from falling below the 2012-13 level, but it’s unclear where additional money might come from if not increasing enrollment. In Indiana, funding follows the student, meaning tuition support from the state is calculated after a count each September.

Follow @ellemoxley on Twitter for more coverage of the June State Board of Education meeting.


  • Melly

    Well, the public schools have been told for five years that we have to “do more with less,” let’s let the private sector school turnaround companies try to do that and see how they do.

    • Prof Peter Boyd

      you are misguided. what about the hundreds of kids that will go back to failing because of this? i agree that “private” takeover is maybe not the best route, but it was the better route for hundreds of students who chose to go/remain at that school. your alternative of “screw them because I’m getting screwed” is about as worthless as eating melted ice cream with a fork. get over yourself.

      • Melly

        Why should they be told something different that what they’ve been telling us at the state level though? They’re all schools, right?

      • Karynb9

        There’s a limited amount of money. If the takeover schools demand and receive more money, that means other students in the state (possibly in failing schools that are trying to turn themselves around NOW before state intervention is needed) will be receiving less. I would agree that a “screw them because I’m getting screwed” attitude doesn’t help students, but neither does an “I don’t care if the rest of them get screwed as long as I don’t” attitude. Marcus Robinson is thinking about his students at his schools. Glenda Ritz and the DOE are charged with thinking about every student at every school. I think Melly (and myself) are just asking that the students are the turnaround schools not receive special treatment at the literal expense of other students in the state who may also be in failing schools that need the help provided by the limited amount of SIG dollars.

  • Tom J. McConnell

    Let me get this straight… The company running Arlington gets the “normal” school funding rate PLUS a large federal grant, and if they can’t have that grant they can’t afford to run their school???

    So what does this tell you about the way the state’s “normal” funding level affects PUBLIC schools??

    If the only way to fund these “takeover” schools is to give considerably more money, then this program is not sustainable. If the state can afford MORE money for schools, then give MORE money to the public schools and maybe these problems will be handled the same way as the “for profit” charter school operators WITHOUT trying to turn a profit!

    • bryhudso

      Well stated!

  • Msrobins

    Money does not fix the problem of apathy, no support for academics in the home, and a culture of learned poverty.

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