Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

'It's Final': Ball State Rejects Appeals, Pulls Backing From Five Indiana Charter Schools

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    Students at Charter School of the Dunes in Gary turned their January academic showcase into a rally to keep their school open after Ball State officials announced they were pulling their sponsorship. The school ultimately found a new authorizer, but five other charters' appeals were officially rejected Wednesday.

    Ball State President Jo Ann Gora made it official and “final” Wednesday — five Indiana charter schools will not have the university’s backing next year, and will have to close if their leaders don’t find new sponsors.

    Officials from the university’s Office of Charter Schools announced in January they would be pulling their sponsorship from seven Indiana charter schools which, they thought, were underperforming.

    Two of the seven schools withdrew their appeals before a panel could review them: Gary’s Charter School of the Dunes found a new authorizer, Calumet College. Fort Wayne’s Timothy L. Johnson Academy is searching for a new backer.

    In total, Ball State will not authorize nine of the schools it sponsored this year, representing a quarter of its charter portfolio — the largest in the state, currently. Even losing those charters, though, the university remains the state’s most prolific charter authorizer.

    If the schools don’t find new authorizers, more charters will close in 2013 than in the combined twelve years since Indiana’s charter law passed.

    Of those nine schools, two withdrew their initial charter renewal application and two more (Charter School of the Dunes and Timothy L. Johnson Academy) withdrew their appeals. The remaining five on which Ball State officials acted Wednesday are:
    • Imagine Indiana Life Sciences Academy-East, Indianapolis
    • Imagine MASTer Academy, Fort Wayne
    • Imagine Schools on Broadway, Fort Wayne
    • Kenneth A. Christmon STEMM Leadership Academy, Richmond
    • LEAD College Preparatory Charter School, Gary

    Those who defend the charter schools say they were surprised by Ball State’s initial decision to revoke their charters. Proponents say they serve students who have “nowhere else to go.”

    “There is a need for a safety net. Someone has to fulfill that,” Michael Nickelson, president of Timothy L. Johnson Academy’s board, told StateImpact in January. “Yes, we’d all like for our schools to do extremely well and for the bottom to be as good as the top. But there is a bottom. Someone has to care for it. We’re that people. We care.”

    Ball State University’s director of employee relations, Melissa Rubrecht, headed the panel that reviewed the appeals. In a statement, she said the following:

    The deep educational experience and expertise of the panel members were invaluable in weighing the evidence before them. They clearly understood the importance of their decisions and made every good-faith effort to make recommendations in the best interest of the students, communities and Ball State.

    Ball State officials have said the charter schools failed to live up to the expectations leaders laid out in their own founding documents.


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