Indiana

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Can The State Board Guarantee Continued Grant Funding For Takeover Schools?

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz asks board members for their thoughts on school accountability during her first Indiana Board of Education study session.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz asks board members for their thoughts on school accountability during her first Indiana Board of Education study session.

Members of the State Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to continue funding five takeover schools at 2012-13 levels. At issue is roughly $1.3 million in federal School Improvement Grants, money earmarked for turnaround efforts that the schools received last year.

But as Indianapolis Star reporter Scott Elliott notes, it’s unclear whether Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the Department of Education can honor the State Board’s directive:

But state board members voted to add a provision requiring that the takeover school operators receive the same funding next year as this year. After the meeting, board members Pickett and David Shane said the aim was to require Ritz to replace roughly $1.3 million each school received from SIG last year for any school that does not receive the grant again. Where Ritz would get the money is unclear, as she argued she can direct per-pupil aid, special education money and federal grants based only on directives in state or federal law.

“If they don’t get it from SIG, they have to get it from somewhere else,” Shane said. “The SIG money is basically supplemental startup funding.”

Ritz said she couldn’t say more until she got legal advice.

“There are a lot of legal questions about this,” she said.

The vote came after EdPower CEO Marcus Robinson told the State Board his company might not be able to continue its work at Indianapolis’ Arlington High School without another infusion of SIG dollars. A Florida company, Charter Schools USA, is running three other schools in Indianapolis.

Before turning over four struggling schools to the state, Indianapolis Public Schools campaigned to keep as many students as possible in the district. As a result, many students enrolled in other IPS schools, and the state-run schools haven’t been able to recover their student counts. Only about 400 students finished the 2012-13 school year at Arlington. That’s down from more than 1,200 students in 2011-12, the last year IPS controlled the school.

Because initial funding estimates were based on enrollment at the schools before state takeover, the turnaround operators started last year with one of the highest per-pupil funding amounts in the state. That amount dropped after a judge ordered the state to repay IPS $6 million and Gary $1.3 million for students that had not stayed at the takeover schools. The Department of Education negotiated a settlement with the schools.

A decision on federal SIG money isn’t likely until mid-summer.

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