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SHOCKER: Indiana Refuses to Give Three Indianapolis Schools to For-Profit Charter Chain

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Indiana is a swamp of school choice corruption.

If you read this post, your hair might catch on fire if  you are sensitive to things like ethics, honesty, and responsible stewardship of public money.

Seven years ago, the state superintendent of Indiana was a school choice firebrand named Tony Bennett. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to transfer public money from public schools to charter operators or religious schools. He was briefly riding high–the Thomas B. Fordham Institute named him the “reformiest of all reformers.” But then he came a cropper. An AP reporter unearthed the fact that he raised the grade of a charter school owned by one of his campaign donors. That was too much, even for the corrupt swamp overseen by Indiana Republicans. Bennett was defeated when he ran for re-election.  Bennett promptly became State Commissioner of Florida. That gig lasted only weeks, and he had to resign because of the ethics problem he left behind in Indiana.

One of his decisions during his tenure in Indiana was to hand over three low-performing schools in Indianapolis to the for-profit chain called Charter Schools USA, which is owned by a pal of Jeb Bush. The chain was supposed to “turn” those schools around.

As Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes, the schools continued to struggle. An extraordinary number of their students decided to homeschool, which boosted the graduation rate of the schools.

Lewis Ferebee, then the superintendent of Indianapolis, now the superintendent in D.C., was happy to work with Charter Schools USA.

Hinnefeld writes:

Charter Schools USA is a for-profit Florida company that operates over 80 schools in six states, according to its website. Its founder and long-time CEO, Jonathan Hage, has played influential roles in Florida Republican politics, including serving on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education transition team.

Sherry Hage, who is married to Jonathan Hage, is founder and CEO of Noble Education Initiative, the nonprofit that would operate the three Indianapolis schools under a charter issued to ReThink Forward Indiana. There’s also ReThink Forward, a CSUSA arm that’s active in Tennessee; its vice chair is Tony Bennett, the former Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

Noble Education Initiative’s director of educational development and partnerships, Byron Ernest, is on the Indiana State Board of Education. Ernest worked for CSUSA as principal of Emmerich Manual for two years after the state took it over. (He has recused himself from state board decisions about CSUSA).

‘Turnaround academies’

Schools taken over by the state and turned over to managers like CSUSA are called turnaround academies. But they haven’t turned around quickly. T.C. Howe earned six more consecutive F’s under Indiana’s grading system after being taken over. Emma Donnan earned five F’s, then a C.

That’s despite approximately $22.3 million in federal School Improvement Grants that the State Board of Education has awarded to CSUSA for the schools. In recent years, the board has rejected recommendations from the Indiana Department of Education and its leader, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, to give a bigger share to district-run public schools that were struggling.

Charter Schools USA asked the Indiana charter board to turn the three Indianapolis schools into charters that it could add to its chain.

Shockingly, the charter board voted 4-3 NOT to give the schools to Charter Schools USA. 

As Chalkbeat reports,

Indiana Charter School Board denied charters Friday for three Indianapolis turnaround schools — a stunning move that could spell the end to the Florida-based Charter Schools USA’s operations in Indianapolis.

As a result, the three Indianapolis schools — Howe High School, Manual High School, and Emma Donnan Middle School — face the prospect of another rocky transition to new management, or even possible closure.

But the board’s 4-3 votes against the charters, which elicited gasps from the audience, marked a major victory for Indianapolis Public Schools, which could win back the three schools that have been under state takeover since 2011. (Two members of the charter board were not present for the vote.)

IPS could reclaim the three schools or close them.

But Charter Schools USA, despite its money and political influence, lost three juicy plums.

(Hint: the state schools’ chief Jennifer McCormick is secretly a friend to genuine public schools. Don’t tell the governor or the legislature.)

 

 

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