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Another charter school exemption

Indiana lawmakers gave an enthusiastic reception Wednesday to a report that shows the state could save $454 million a year by pushing public schools and universities to the state employee health-care plan.

But once again, it appears that public charter schools might get a pass.

The estimated cost-savings figures come from a survey by Mercer Health and Benefits. The State Budget Agency paid the consulting and outsourcing firm $319,000 to conduct the study, which was distributed to all public K-12 schools with a terse warning: "Please note that participation in this process is required and failure to do so may jeopardize the timing and receipt of future tuition payments."

One long-time school official told me that surveys from the state aren't uncommon, but this was the first time he had seen a warning that money might be withheld for failing to respond.

Public school districts responded: The Mercer report shows a perfect response rate of 290 out of 290 school districts.

Public charter schools? Not so much. Just 16 out of 32 responded.

But they apparently are at no risk of losing state dollars.

"Many charter schools were deemed ineligible for the survey due to their involvement with either an out-of-state management company or an existing parental unit, which provides insurance coverage through private sources," according to the report.

Lawmakers might be perfectly content with the lack of transparency that Indiana charter schools exhibit, but Hoosiers should be demanding to know why taxpayer-supported schools can hide behind for-profit management companies while traditional public schools, with elected board members, cannot.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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