Under legislation, charter teachers would be licensed – but there’s a catch

Indiana lawmakers continue to make changes in legislation to expand the number of charter schools in the state, and it’s hard to keep track of what they’re up to.

Take the matter of teacher licensing. House Bill 1002, the charter-schools bill, was amended in the Senate to require that 90 percent of full-time teachers in a charter school hold a teaching license – up from 50 percent in previous legislation. That sounds like a step in the direction of holding charters accountable.

Except that another amendment says, in effect, that you can get a license to teach in a charter school simply by having a desire to teach in a charter school.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and passed 38-12, requires the Department of Education to set up a program that lets a person get a license to teach in a charter school if he or she completed a four-year college degree with at least a B average.

Vic Smith writes about the charter legislation in his “What’s Happening at the Statehouse” column on the website of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. “The watering down of the licensing procedure is hard to believe,” he says.

What’s driving this? One possible answer is a desire to lure to Indiana charter operators that don’t want to hire licensed teachers, like Arizona’s BASIS schools.

Dale Chu, assistant superintendent for policy with the Indiana Department of Education, said last month that the earlier proposal that 50 percent of charter-school teachers needn’t be licensed was targeted to schools like BASIS. But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett subsequently told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the department had learned BASIS wouldn’t accept a requirement that any of its teachers be licensed.

Nick Fleege, director of new school development for BASIS Schools Inc., told School Matters that Indiana ranks sixth or seventh on the list of states that BASIS is eying for expansion. The Kruse amendment could vault it up a few notches.

BASIS plans to expand outside of Arizona when it opens a school in Washington, D.C., in 2012. Its schools enroll students in grades 5-12 and are known for a rigorous curriculum and lots of students taking and passing AP exams. (But questions have been raised about attrition in the schools). Officials say BASIS teachers often have advanced degrees in the subjects they teach.

Fleege said BASIS expects to open between two and four new schools a year and to expand to approximately one new state each year.

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