Indiana charter school operators were alarmed to learn that many of the schools were slated for unexpected cuts in their 2015-16 allocations under the federal Title I program. What happened?
Michelle McKeown of the Indiana Charter School Board says the glitch appears to result from the way the Indiana Department of Education determined school free and reduced-price lunch counts for purposes of allocating the funds. And it is tied to the participation by some high-poverty school districts in the new Community Eligibility program, in which all students get free school lunches.
McKeown makes a persuasive case that the education department calculated Title I funding using Community Eligibility data for school districts but used different data for charter schools.
“This is the only explanation that makes sense to me,” McKeown, the interim executive director of the charter school board, told me. “I think it’s very clear they used different sets of data.”
It’s worth noting that, even with the cuts, some charter schools still get more Title I money per student than the local districts. And some charter schools got increases. But the situation has political resonance because Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who heads the state education department, is lukewarm on charter schools. Some of her critics seemed to suspect treachery.
Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, declined to comment on McKeown’s conclusions but said the department used the same formula to allocate Title I funding that has been used for over a decade. He said some schools had errors in data they submitted, which can have an effect on the allocations.