Indy charter schools call on IPS to share possible referendum dollars

Alechia Ostler, executive director of Invent Learning Hub, speaks at a press conference, along with various other Indianapolis charter school leaders to ask that the Indianapolis Public Schools district share possible referendum dollars coming into the district if approved by voters next year, on Dec. 2, 2022 at the Invent Learning Hub school in Indianapolis.
Alechia Ostler, executive director of Invent Learning Hub, speaks at a press conference, along with various other Indianapolis charter school leaders to ask that the Indianapolis Public Schools district share possible referendum dollars coming into the district if approved by voters next year, on Dec. 2, 2022 at the Invent Learning Hub school in Indianapolis.

Leaders from various charter schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district are calling on IPS to share possible referendum dollars coming into the district if approved by voters next year.

During a press conference on Friday at the Invent Learning Hub, an independent charter school on the southeast side of Indianapolis, speakers said that charters should get a cut of operating referendum dollars to ensure all IPS students are served equitably.

“As a community, we should be united in working together to eliminate the disparities we see in our schools,” Alechia Ostler, executive director of Invent Learning Hub said on Friday. “I ask that we share to be fair.”

The charter school leaders are asking IPS to share the dollars with not only their innovation charter school partners but also with independent charter schools located within the IPS boundary.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in a statement on Friday that the district does plan to share its new referendum dollars with its innovation school partners but does not want to include independent charter schools.

Global Prep Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Indianapolis.
Global Prep Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Indianapolis.

Since independent charter schools are not held accountable in the same way that innovation charter schools are, Johnson said, they cannot maintain the level of accountability that she promised the IPS community when proposing the changes under the Rebuilding Stronger Plan.

“So, when we implement Rebuilding Stronger, we need to live up to all of our commitments,” Johnson said. “And what concerns me is that the proposal to include charters not affiliated with IPS provides no mechanism for the IPS administration or our publicly elected Board of School Commissioners to oversee those funds — which amounts to spending without accountability.”

Kimberly Neal-Brannum, the founder of BELIEVE Circle City Schools, said in response to Johnson’s comment at Friday’s press conference that independent charter schools, like BELIEVE, are held accountable to the governing boards like the Indianapolis Mayor’s office which approved their charters.

“We get audited every year, everything is still public, everything is clear and transparent,” Neal-Brannum said. “There are no secret things happening in our schools, and it’s the same thing that is happening down the street at our traditionally run schools, so that should be a non-issue.”

The IPS school board of commissioners are set to take a vote on approving two referendums at next Tuesday’s board meeting. If approved, then the referendum question would be on the ballot in May 2023.

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IPS is asking for a one-time $410 million capital referendum and a $50 million annual operating referendum that would span over eight years, to help fund the expansive measures planned under the recently approved Rebuilding Stronger plan.

The charter school leaders claim that if the operating referendum is approved, students in district-run schools would receive an average of $2,300 in funding each year, and students in innovation schools would receive $650 per year, creating a gap of $1,650 per student.

The announcement also came with a letter signed by 52 school leaders from various independent charter schools and IPS innovation-network charter schools that all agree that the referendum dollars should be shared.

Students line up at Global Prep Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Indianapolis.
Students line up at Global Prep Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Indianapolis.

Sharing referendum dollars is something IPS has already done with its innovation network partner schools before.

Last year the IPS school board of commissioners approved sharing part of their 2018 operating referendum dollars, which came out to be about $5 million shared annually with roughly two dozen of their innovation-network charter schools. They did not share the dollars with independent charter schools in the district.

That move gave innovation network charter schools $500 for each of its students, estimated to be about 10,000 students. It’s still a fraction of what the district’s traditional schools receive from the 2018 referendum, which is more than $1,500 per student.

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The district’s innovation network schools consist of a combination of existing charter schools that came under the district’s umbrella, charter operators that were brought in to take over an existing IPS school and new charter schools that launched as part of the network.

Friday’s announcement marks another instance of disagreement between the district and its innovation school partners in recent months, after many of whom have voiced concerns and disapproval over the Rebuilding Stronger plan.

Charter school leaders signaled at Friday's press conference that they would like to lobby lawmakers to change state law that prevents charter schools from drawing on local tax revenue and referendum dollars.

Contact IndyStar reporter Caroline Beck at 317-618-5807 or CBeck@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarolineB_Indy.

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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indy charter schools call on IPS to share possible referendum dollars