Give some credit to Speaker Brian Bosma for keeping a partially open mind on the charter-schools bill that he’s pushing through the Indiana House of Representatives.
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is co-author of the legislation, which expands sponsors of charter schools to include private colleges and universities, a statewide charter schools board, and mayors of cities of the second class, such as Bloomington. Under current law, only local school corporations, public universities and the mayor of Indianapolis can sponsor charter schools.
The legislation, House Bill 1002, was the subject of a five-hour hearing Wednesday before the House Education Committee. On Monday at 10:30 a.m., the committee is scheduled to consider amendments and then vote to send the bill to the full House for more debate.
There’s a lot to the bill, and it’s worth a careful read – although there may be significant amendments.
It includes the “parent trigger” provision that Gov. Mitch Daniels has touted: If the parents of 51 percent of students in a low-performing school sign a petition, they can convert it to a charter school.
Another provision requires public school corporations to lease unused or “under-utilized” buildings to local charter schools for $1 a year.The school corporation would have to maintain the building while its competitor, the charter school, uses it essentially for free.
The bill also calls for siphoning a share of a school district’s transportation-fund property taxes to charter schools located in the district. There doesn’t seem to be any requirement that the charter schools use the money for transportation.
Finally, it allows private colleges and universities that sponsor charter schools to collect an “administrative fee” of 3 percent of the state money that goes to the schools. This is supposed to cover the costs of overseeing the charter, or operating agreement, with the school. It would amount to about $30,000 a year for a charter school with 200 students.
Bosma told Eric Berman of WIBC radio that he was persuaded at Wednesday’s hearing that maybe the bill should be tweaked. He learned there may be legitimate reasons for school districts to hang onto unused buildings without having to turn them over to charter schools. And he seemed to have doubts about whether every private college in Indiana should be encouraged to sponsor charters.
Here’s another issue the legislature should consider as it promotes charter schools. Public school boards in Indiana are subject to the Open Door Law. And school records, except those covered by student and employee confidentiality rules, are subject to the Access to Public Records Act.
If private colleges and universities get taxpayer money to sponsor charter schools, they should play by the same rules. Real accountability requires transparency.