Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why You Might End Up With A Charter School In Your Neighborhood Whether You Want One Or Not

    A law the Indiana State General Assembly passed last year allows charter school operators to pick up unused school property for $1 and charter schools operators have not been shy about hunting these schools down.

    Blue dots represent schools which have closed in the last 4 years. Red markers indicate schools available to charter schools for $1.
    Source: Indiana Department of Education

    Emily Pelino heads a number of Knowledge Is Power Program or KIPP charters in Indianapolis. She says her company is looking to update the school’s existing building arrangement and further increase its presence in Indianapolis and throughout Indiana.

    “We currently lease from IPS,” says Pelino. “But we’re looking to expand further in the area.”

    Competition for empty school buildings is stiff in Indiana. Some of the nation’s biggest charter school operators including KIPP, Charter Schools USA, and the New York-based Leona Group have all expressed interest in aggressively expanding into Indiana. Competition among these organizations is so stiff, that some aren’t even considering the $1 dollar school building as an option.

    Richard Page is Vice President of Development for Charter Schools USA. The group administers dozens of schools in Indiana, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. He says his company is definitely aware of the Indiana Department of Education’s directory of unused school buildings, but the cutthroat market has them looking elsewhere for facilities.

    “We’ve seen the list,” says Page. “But many others are looking at the same list.”

    Between 10 and 15 charter schools have opened each year across Indiana since 2008.  Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard announced plans during his re-election campaign to open as many as 20 additional charter schools in the area over the next few years.

    Yet, in spite of this influx of startup charters, Page says his company already has plans to open two new schools in the Indianapolis area, even if they’re not able to get access to unused school buildings.

    Traditional public schools are not completely without defense. Sixteen Indianapolis Public School buildings have closed in the last four years. Yet only five of those buildings are currently available for charter schools and only a small handful have sold.

    IPS spokesperson Mary Louise Bewley says the district is currently using one old facility as a teacher training center. Several others are being used for what is known as “swing space.”

    “We remove students from school buildings being renovated and temporarily move them to nearby closed buildings,” says Bewley.

    Essentially, the district maintains a number of empty buildings for use as classroom space while other schools undergo renovation.

    Yet another building in the district is being used as a Headstart office.

    While all of these buildings are serving a purpose within the district. Bewley says the new charter school law has pushed IPS to think much more carefully about how they dispose of unused property.


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