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Indiana's zombie schools

If charter schools don't perform well, they will be closed, supporters of Indiana's charter school law claimed.

Well, not so much: ­Meet the Indiana zombie schools. Try to shut them down for poor performance and they just keep going.

Gary's Charter School of the Dunes is among the seven schools whose charters have been revoked by their authorizer, Ball State University. The charter school filed an appeal, with a hearing set for April 24, but the Times of Northwest Indiana reported last week that Calumet College of St. Joseph will take over as sponsor of the school.

Meanwhile, Timothy L. Johnson Academy, a Fort Wayne charter also tapped for closing, has made a pitch to the East Allen County Schools board to grant a charter. Imagine Schools Inc., the for-profit company that runs two schools in Fort Wayne and two in Indianapolis, had three of its charters revoked. But the company now is "actively looking for another entity to grant it new charters."

Imagine filed paperwork with the Indiana secretary of state's office to establish an Imagine Academy for Boys Inc. and an Imagine Academy for Girls Inc., both at the current address of the Imagine Indiana Life Sciences Academy West in Indianapolis.

Charter School of the Dunes is another school that seems to be more about real estate than education. In spite of its faltering achievement record, the school somehow secured financing to build a new $13 million school, according to StateImpact Indiana's Kyle Stokes.

Another Gary charter slated for closing, LEAD College Prep, got the go-ahead from a Lake County judge to lease a vacant Gary Community Schools building for $1 a year.

How do lawmakers justify ordering a public school district to lease a building to a competitor with a lower achievement record? It's certainly not about accountability, but the reformers no longer talk about accountability – now it's all about choice.

The charter supporters clearly saw that they weren't going to be able to keep charters open and establish more under the terms of the original charter bill. The law granting independent colleges and a statewide charter board the authority to grant charters gives the zombie schools the breath of life, at taxpayers' expense.

The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss points out "scary" legislation proposed in North Carolina. But what's really frightening? The same laws already are on the books in Indiana, giving everlasting life to the zombie schools.

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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