Leaders at the Indiana Department of Education, along with State Board of Education members and Indiana Charter School Board staff, participated in a conference call with federal officials Tuesday to discuss next steps for correcting errors in this year’s Title I distributions. This comes after several state charter schools questioned the IDOE’s process for distributing the funds for low-income kids.
State officials asked the feds in late September to weigh in, and they said Indiana’s system was incorrect. They discovered inconsistencies in the calculations used to divvy up awards for charters and traditional public schools, in addition to finding the state had not properly applied a federal rule governing Title I to all schools.
That rule, a provision in U.S. statute called “hold harmless,” says no school or “local education agency” may lose more than 15 percent of the previous year’s allocation.
Some Hoosier schools saw decreases of up to 33 percent this year. The feds determined nearly half of Indiana’s charter schools were shortchanged; in contrast, the same thing happened to fewer than one percent of traditional public schools.
The feds said IDOE officials will likely need to take “corrective action” to fix this year’s award amounts. The two departments are working to figure out exactly what that might entail – but first, they want to see how far back the problem may reach.
“During Tuesday’s call, federal officials expressed that it is possible that both charter and traditional public schools may have received an excess allocation of federal dollars over the years,” IDOE officials said in a statement. “This year, many schools have seen the possibility of a reduction…similar reductions were possible in previous years, but federal stimulus funding prevented cuts.”
The review will look at systems in place under current state Superintendent Glenda Ritz‘s leadership, as well as those administered by former superintendent Tony Bennett. Bennett served as state schools’ chief from 2008 to 2012.
IDOE spokesman Daniel Altman confirms Indiana has not changed its formula for Title I allocations in more than a decade.
Altman adds that during Tuesday’s conference call, no specific timeline was set for collecting and submitting the historical data.
Michelle McKeown, interim director for Indiana’s Charter School Board, says she’s curious to see the math the state used to make these calculations.
“There have been some puzzling patterns with the allocation, where the [public school] corporations lost students but for some reason went up in allocations, despite that charter schools that drew the majority of their student populations from the district and had increased in enrollment – or at least maintained steady enrollment – were seeing decreases,” McKeown says. “These are numbers, they should have logical relationships. I should be able to make sense of them, I should be able to put numbers in a formula and get the right output, and I just couldn’t get those.”
And charter leaders say they’re pleased to see some action, but they hope whatever happens is more than just temporary.
“We are now beginning to better understand true cause – the larger issue was determining why the sudden drop,” says Tommy Reddicks, executive director at the Paramount School of Excellence, an Indianapolis-based charter school. “While charters can regain lost funding, the allocations can continue to dip at allowable percentages until we end up in the same situation over a period of years.”