[r74] Special Ellspermann Edition: Chartering the future (2/9/2011)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Start Date: 2/9/2011 All Day
End Date: 2/9/2011

Special Edition: Chartering the Future

On Monday and Tuesday the House of Representatives debated and passed HB 1002, the Charter School bill.  The bill heard over sixteen hours of testimony and debate. This bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and, if passed there, to the Governor's desk to become law.  Indiana currently has 60 charter schools serving over 22,000 students.  The waiting list of students wanting to enroll in a charter school is in the thousands.  Currently, two-thirds of charter school students are non-white students and are receiving free and reduced lunch. Charter Schools also serve over two-thousand students that have special needs. 

Here are some highlights of the current bill:

·         -It expands who can sponsor a charter school including school corporations, Indiana public and private universities, and mayors of second class cities.

·         -Charter schools will have increased accountability for performance, similar to public schools.

·         -Nonperforming charters may be closed or converted back after 5 years.

·         -Conversion schools (those that petition to change from a traditional to charter public school) ensure teachers have the ability to organize if they choose.

·         -Unused school buildings in existing school corporations will be made available for charter schools to lease and could be purchased, if mutual agreement is reached.

·         -A charter school petition for conversion could be prompted by the school corporation or a majority of teachers or parents.

·         -The newly formed Indiana Charter School Board would have to approve all new charter schools and provide, in addition to sponsors, oversight.

This bill is what we call a "may" provision.  That is, no one is required to start a charter school.  It is unlikely we will find charters the answer in rural schools as most of our schools are high performing. Though not a panacea, charter schools do provide one more public school option for parents and students who find themselves wanting an additional choice of schooling or who may be stuck in a failing school.

What is the downside?  There is fear among teachers and union representatives that, once a conversion is made, teachers will no longer have or could be pressured against union representation.  That is illegal under HB 1002 and existing labor law.  There is also fear of a mass exodus of traditional public school students enrolling in hundreds of new charter schools.  This bill is likely to increase the number of charter schools.  However, given the challenge to petition, find a sponsor and then gain approval to start a charter school, it is more likely we'll open a few new charter schools than hundreds.enough to subside the current waiting list.  And, as there is no "new money" for charters, they will likely occur in those locations where new options are needed to educate students whose needs are not being well addressed by their local school corporations.

Thank you to the hundreds of public school teachers who attended the hearings on Tuesday.  Let me tell you, they were passionate and loudly reiterated their commitment to both our public schools and the students they serve.  I, like they, will fight to ensure Indiana maintains a strong public school system so that Hoosier students can compete in this global world.  Though many came to the state house with open skepticism of this bill, I hope teachers will give charter schools the same respect and chance for success that they afford our traditional public schools.  This really is about what is best for our kids.

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Rep. Sue Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand)