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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 5:57 pm

Study: Charter funds wasted

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A national group released a study Wednesday finding that more than $2 million out of almost $20 million in federal charter school funds was squandered in Indiana.

Specifically, the Center for Media and Democracy said several public charter schools that received planning and implementation grants have closed because of poor performance, or they never opened.

Some of these charters have failed – and badly. The federal injection of money in accord with the program objective of incentivizing states where charter schools are exempt from most statutes and regulations has wasted monies on charters that failed in not unforeseeable ways, the report said.

"We are grateful for federal programs like CSP that help so many Indiana charter schools flourish and serve an increasing number of students," said Erin Sweitzer, spokeswoman for the Institute for Quality Education said. "CSP works to foster charter school startup and innovation, and to see that 90 percent of their Indiana-directed funds went to schools that opened and stayed open is a tremendous success."

She added that it is always difficult to see a school close because of poor academic performance, but it is the right thing to do and is evidence that the charter accountability system is working.

The Center for Media and Democracy is a Wisconsin-based liberal think tank that conducts investigations into corruption and the undue influence of corporations on media and democracy.

Its most recent report used public records requests under federal and state laws to see how much federal Charter Schools Program funding was given to state agencies for charters, and details of how that money was spent in 12 states, including Indiana.

The group also said public information about funds received and spent by charters is severely lacking.

Unlike truly public schools, which have to account for prospective and past spending in public budgets provided to democratically elected school boards, charter spending is largely a black hole, the report said.

Indiana received the least amount of funding under the federal CSP grants for expanding the number of high-quality charters among the 12 states in the investigation.

Indiana began allowing charters in 2002, starting with 11 such schools. As of the 2013 school year, Indiana had 75 authorized charter schools with more than 34,000 students enrolled.

Here are a few troubled charters cited by the study:

• Andrew Academy in Indianapolis received $700,000 in planning and implementation grants. The charter was forced to close in 2015 because of poor student performance.

• Padua Academy in Indianapolis lost its charter in 2014 and converted to a private religious school, but not before receiving $702,000 in federal seed money.

• The Indiana Cyber Charter School opened in 2012 with a $420,000 implementation grant. Dogged by financial problems and poor student results, the charter was revoked, and it closed in 2015, leaving 1,100 students in the lurch.

• Via Charter School was awarded a $193,000 planning grant but never opened.

nkelly@jg.net