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Closed for accountability, opened for cash

State Superintendent Tony Bennett told an audience at Hebron High School this week that charter schools should be closed if they don't perform well.

So I wonder if this charter school closing in Ohio would pass muster in Indiana? Policy Matters Ohio issued a news release last month noting the unusual evolution of Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy in Toledo. Its poor academic performance put it on the state's closing list last year. In about a month's time, however, Northpointe Academy was set to open in the very same location. The staffing list for the two schools was almost identical.

"As of February 11, 2011, Northpointe Academy enrolled more than 270 students and had collected more than $2 million in state money for the 2010-11 school year," according to Policy Matter Ohio's Piet van Lier.

An uninterrupted flow of state tax dollars. Not a bad deal for anyone but the students, who would appear to be getting the same substandard education in a new wrapping.

Both the old and new charters are operated by Leona Group, the Phoenix-based charter management company founded by Bill Coats, former superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools. Leona operates the Timothy L. Johnson Academy in southeast Fort Wayne, the city's first charter school.

Also in his address at Hebron, Bennett said he "favored multiple attendance counting days to ensure charters didn't receive funding for students who attend only a short while," according to the Times of Northwest Indiana.

That's an interesting point given the charge raised by a caller to "Midday Matters," a live program produced by Northeast Indiana Public Radio. A woman phoned into the show on Monday and said she was a former employee of Imagine Schools Inc. in Fort Wayne. She told listeners how the charter school waited until after the mid-September attendance day – on which schools' per-pupil funding is based – to "dump" kids with behavior problems. She said school officials avoided the cumbersome expulsion process by telling parents that their child might not be accepted at another school if they were expelled, prompting parents to voluntarily withdraw their children.

You can hear the caller's comments on the podcast, near the very end.

Multiple attendance count days for charter schools certainly would be an appropriate amendment to House Bill 1002, given the state superintendent's professed support.

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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