Information released recently by the Indiana Department of Education suggests that more than a handful of charter schools were shorted on their Title I funding allocations last fall.
A few of the schools complained publicly, federal education officials stepped in and the department made some adjustments this spring. Fifty-two of the 63 charter schools that receive Title I funds saw their funding increase from what they were told to expect last fall. Most saw an increase of 20 percent or more.
Where did the adjustments come from? Largely from money that had been promised to public school districts, apparently in error. Total Title I allocations for charter schools increased by $4.5 million or 27.2 percent, by my calculations. Allocations for public school districts declined by $6.2 million or 2.8 percent.
There were bigger changes were for four turnaround schools, public schools that were taken over by the state and are run by private school management organizations. Their Title I allocations nearly doubled.
None of these figures are final, the state says. The numbers that the department reported to schools last fall were “planning allocations,” intended to help school districts and charter schools plan how to spend their Title I money. And the new amounts reported this spring are “updated planning allocations.”
Final and official figures for 2015-16 won’t be available until the completion of a U.S. Department of Education-ordered review of Indiana’s Title I allocations going back five years.
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act targets funding to schools serving disadvantaged students. The funding is based on formulas that give more money to needier schools, with the amounts determined by census poverty data. Both district and charter schools get a share based on how many students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Some charter school officials noted last fall that their planning allocations for 2015-16 had been reduced significantly without explanation. And under a “hold harmless” provision in federal rules, no charter school or district should have been cut by more than 15 percent from the previous year.
With the adjustments this spring, charter schools appear to be getting about what they expected. But the news comes too late in the school year to provide extra help for struggling students, said Carey Dahncke, chief financial officer for two Christel House Academy charter schools in Indianapolis.
“Due to the extremely late distribution, there is now absolutely no opportunity for us to use this funding to support those impoverished students before ISTEP,” Dahncke told me by email. “I am disappointed that our most at-risk students were shortchanged this year by the department.”
Samantha Hart, spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Education, said it is standard practice for the department to provide initial planning allocations and update the figures later in the school year.
“The department is currently working with schools to mitigate any fluctuation that they may have seen in their updated planning allocation,” Hart said.
What happened to cause the big shifts last fall and require the adjustments this spring? It’s possible to speculate, but we probably won’t know until the U.S. Department of Education review is done.