Systemwide failure on virtual charter schools

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” — Upton Sinclair

We’ve known something fishy was going on with virtual charter schools since 2017, when a Chalkbeat Indiana investigation exposed shady business practices and lousy test scores and graduation rates at Indiana Virtual School and its sister school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

A blockbuster report this week from the State Board of Accounts shows just how bad it was – and it was worse than we’d imagined. The report charged that the schools overbilled the state by $68 million by vastly inflating the number of students who were enrolled in and attending classes online.

It also found schools made $85.7 million in questionable payments to vendors in which school officials or family members had an interest. Much of the taxpayer money that the schools received, the report shows, went to a network of for-profit businesses tied to school founder Thomas Stoughton and his associates.

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Nonprofit edu-news site to launch

Nonprofit education news coverage is coming to Indiana, and that’s something to welcome. Scott Elliott has left the Indianapolis Star to become editor of Chalkbeat Indiana, an online news outlet that will cover schools and education policy.

Chalkbeat is an initiative of the Education News Network, which formed early this year in a merger of two respected education news organizations, Gotham Schools in New York and Ed News Colorado. The network is also starting an education news site in Tennessee.

Plans call for the Indiana site to launch in early 2014 with a four-person staff. And it will have plenty to cover: the growth of Indiana’s voucher and charter-schools programs, tension between Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education, the implementation of performance-based teacher evaluations and the political fight over Common Core – not to mention the great stories that can be found in Indiana schools every day.

“We’re going to cover educational change with a focus on the Indianapolis Public School District and other schools across the city,” Elliott tells edu-blogger Alexander Russo. “At the state policy level, we’ll cover the state board of education, the education department and the legislature. There will be a focus on key high impact issues.”

The School Matters blog started out of frustration over the lack of education news reporting, especially at the level of state policy and politics. Now we’ve got NPR’s State Impact Indiana providing solid coverage, soon to be joined by Chalkbeat Indiana. Continue reading