Money matters, apparently, for school turnaround

How much should Indiana spend to turn around a handful of its lowest-performing schools? Whatever it takes, members of the State Board of Education are suggesting. And that attitude may put them on a collision course with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

The issue took up much of Monday’s state board meeting, where representatives of Indiana TSOs – turnaround school operators – insisted on being first in line when the state Department of Education hands out federal grants this summer.

The board, then led by previous Superintendent Tony Bennett, decided in 2011 to turn several under-achieving Indianapolis and Gary schools over to TSOs: Charter Schools USA, Edison Learning and Indy nonprofit EdPower. The hand-off took place last fall.

Monday’s discussion focused on Section 1003(a) School Improvement Grant funds, which the state receives from the federal government and awards to local schools. Last year, under Bennett, more than half the money went to the five turnaround academies – presumably to help them get off the ground. Each of the schools got about $1.4 million, while a majority of schools that qualified for the grants received $5,000 each (see chart).

Board members said Monday they had made a commitment to the turnaround schools, and they leaned hard on Ritz to give the schools as much as they got last year.

“If you have a strategic priority and you don’t fund it, that’s dereliction of duty,” said David Shane. Continue reading