If the mostly indifferent response to a standardized testing fiasco last month wasn’t enough evidence that Indiana lawmakers aren’t interested in school accountability, consider this:
I am very happy that there will still be a school providing students with an educational environment that may suit them best, said Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne. The Indiana General Assembly has worked to give these kids a choice in their education, and I want to encourage parents to continue to be a positive force in their child’s educational career.
Morris was referring to a deal that allows the for-profit Imagine Schools Inc. to continue operating even after its failed Fort Wayne charter schools were shut down for poor performance.
Imagine Inc.’s deal with a start-up voucher school, Horizon Christian Academy, will allow it to operate at taxpayer expense almost totally outside public scrutiny. Its board meetings will be closed, its budget won’t be a public record and its lucrative real estate arrangement with an out-of-state company will be further concealed. Its property holdings will be exempt from taxes.
When Ball State University’s Office of Charter Schools announced in March that it would not renew the charters for Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine on Broadway, it appeared to be an overdue but deserved application of charter-school accountability. Charter proponents have long insisted their model was superior because failing schools would close if they did not perform.
What they failed to account for, however, was that the adults who operate charter schools are just as determined to protect their turf. In this case, the wealthy founder of Imagine Schools Inc. has cleverly used Indiana’s new voucher program to keep his poor-performing Fort Wayne charters open at taxpayers’ expense.
The Indiana legislators who supported charters and vouchers as a means of holding traditional public schools accountable are placed in an embarrassing position, but they’ve already dropped the accountability argument and now claim it’s all about choice. Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, joined Morris in hailing the deal between Imagine Inc. and Horizon Christian Academy, a school established just last year to take advantage of the voucher program.
In the just-ended session, lawmakers increased the minimum voucher payment from $4,500 to $4,700 for 2013-14 and to $4,800 in 2014-15. Voucher eligibility requirements were lowered. As of this fall, there is no cap on available vouchers.
Timothy L. Johnson Academy, a Fort Wayne charter school operated by the Leona Group, also lost its charter from Ball State. Its school board is preparing to dodge accountability by partnering with Trine University. To ensure that failing charters would have an escape hatch, legislators two years ago authorized private colleges and an appointed state board to authorize charters.
A hastily called public hearing is set for 4 p.m. today at the school, 4615 Werling Drive, on the proposed arrangement with Education One LLC, Trine’s charter-authorizing entity. Look for unanimous approval regardless of the testimony.
The ISTEP+ fiasco last month makes this year’s test scores unreliable. As a result, poor-performing charter and voucher schools are given a reprieve under the flawed system that was supposed to hold all schools accountable. In 2014, however, taxpayers and voters can hold accountable the elected officials who promised better schools and delivered only poor choices.