Organizers of the Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County went shopping for a friendly authorizer and found one. Grace College and Theological Seminary, a small Christian school in northern Indiana, agreed this month to approve the charter school.
But Seven Oaks has work to do before it can open. For one thing, it needs a suitable facility. It’s looking to buy or lease and renovate a building in Bloomington, according to a news release.
The board also has to work through a 10-page checklist of items to the satisfaction of Grace College, including details about school governance, financial management, curriculum and other matters. And it needs to hire staff, including a head of school, and recruit and enroll students.
So the school may open this August, as organizers hope, but it will be a scramble. It will probably require leaning heavily on Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative and/or the school management firm Indiana Charters, both identified as partners in the Seven Oaks application.
In fact, the charter – the written contract that spells out the duties of Seven Oaks and the authorizer – hasn’t yet been completed, Grace College public relations director Amanda Banks said. No decision has yet been made on whether Grace will collect the 3-percent administrative fee that state law allows charter authorizers, she said; that provision will be part of the charter, when it’s completed.
Grace College seems to be operating in good faith and within the law. It deserves credit for posting charter school applications and procedures prominently on its website. And Banks, the college spokeswoman, has been more responsive to questions than some public-agency press people.
But the Seven Oaks example calls attention to issues created when the Indiana legislature voted in 2011 to extend school chartering authority to the state’s 30 private colleges and universities.
Seven Oaks organizers twice went to the Indiana Charter School Board with their plan for a charter school that would focus on teaching Latin and inculcating “moral character and civic virtue.” They were rejected once; the second time, they withdrew after the charter board staff recommended denial.
Seven Oaks then submitted a nearly identical charter proposal to Grace College, which says its criteria for approving charter schools are essentially the same as those of the state charter board. And the outcome was the opposite. Why? We will probably never know.
The Indiana Charter School Board is a state body that holds meetings in public and makes its records available to anyone who asks. Grace College is a private college that’s not accountable to the public.
Banks confirmed that the Jan. 13 meeting at which the college’s executive board decided to award the Seven Oaks charter was not open to the public. There is no public record of which board members favored or opposed the charter. There was a staff recommendation on approving the charter, she said, but it is an internal document.
Yet Seven Oaks Classical School, if it’s able to open, will receive the same per-pupil state funding as local school districts operated by elected school boards.
Charter school advocates insist that charter schools are public schools. It’s a hard claim to make when their very authorization is done in secret.