Lawsuit over virtual charter schools can proceed

Indiana can proceed with its effort to recover $154 million from two defunct virtual charter schools and their leaders and business partners, a judge has ruled.

Judge Michael A. Casati rejected requests from school officials that he dismiss state lawsuits aimed at recovering the funds. His decisions were filed Monday in Hamilton Superior Court.

Attorney General Todd Rokita, representing the state, filed suit in July 2021 against Indiana Virtual School, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy and several of their officers and business partners, alleging they misappropriated state funds. The lawsuit followed a State Board of Accounts investigation that found officials inflated enrollment figures and made improper payments to companies run by themselves and by associates.

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Virtual charter school case in court this week

A Hamilton County court hearing this week may determine whether Indiana taxpayers have a chance to recover $154 million from two virtual charter schools and their leaders and business partners.

The hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before Hamilton Superior Court Judge Michael Casati, concerns motions to dismiss a lawsuit to recover charter school funds that were allegedly obtained by fraud or improperly spent.

Attorney General Todd Rokita filed the suit in July 2021 on behalf of the state. Defendants include the schools — Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy — and several of their officers and employees. Also named are businesses that were affiliated with the schools.

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1619 belongs in classrooms

We remember the canonical years from our American history classes: 1492. 1776. 1861-65. It’s past time to add 1619 to the list. I just read the 1619 Project book, and I’m convinced.

It was in August 1619 that Jamestown, Virginia, colonists bought 20 to 30 enslaved Africans from English pirates. “They were among the more than 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in the book’s introductory essay.

Image of The 1619 Project book cover.

Arguably no event had a more pivotal and long-lasting impact on the United States. As the 1619 Project makes clear, chattel slavery and the accompanying doctrine of white supremacy shaped American history and American attitudes, and they continue to do so today.

“The story of Black Americans cannot be disentangled from the story of America, and our attempts to do so have forced us to tell ourselves a tale full of absences, evasions and lies,” writes Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and lead author.

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Indy clergy call out attorney general

Thanksgiving is a few days past, but I’m feeling especially thankful today for the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis. They’ve had the courage to call out Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita for his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and so-called critical race theory.

The group’s president, the Rev. David Greene Sr., told Indiana Public Media’s Jeanie Lindsay that Rokita’s comments are racist and based on misinformation, and they undermine efforts to make students of color feel safe, welcome and supported.

“They are divisive, while he’s trying to claim that he’s trying to keep that from happening – his remarks are offensive to those of us who are people of color,” Greene said. “We know a dog whistle, we know language that is not really meant for Black and Brown people.”

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Indiana’s demagogue-in-chief

If an issue is ripe for demagoguery, Todd Rokita will be on it like a dog on a bone. The phony outrage over what schools teach about race was made to order for the Indiana attorney general.

Rokita came out Wednesday with a “parents bill of rights” that purports to educate parents about their right to understand and be engaged in their children’s education. That sounds reasonable; but for Rokita, it’s an excuse to dive into a culture war.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita

Predictably, he jumps on the right-wing bandwagon to attack critical race theory and the 1619 Project. Never mind that K-12 schools almost never teach CRT, a theoretical framework for examining the role of race in society that may be taught in law or graduate schools. Or that the 1619 Project is exactly what it claims to be: an attempt to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

Rokita lists six “rights” for parents with regard to their children’s education: the right to question school officials, to question the school’s curriculum, to expect schools to comply with the law, to participate in setting state academic standards, to review instructional materials and to run for school board.

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Schools push back against plan to cut free-lunch eligibility

School officials say the Community Eligibility Program for providing students with free lunch and breakfast has been a resounding success. It has reduced paperwork, provided more students with healthy meals and kept more money in the hands of families.

But legislation introduced by Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita would cut back on the program, eliminating the option for over 18,000 schools and hundreds of thousands of children nationwide, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In Indiana, at least 120 schools serving 58,000 students – nearly half the schools and students that currently participate – could be bounced out of the program.

Community Eligibility was created by a 2010 reauthorization of the federal school nutrition law and became available to schools nationwide in 2014-15. It enables high-poverty schools and school districts to offer free meals to all their students without forcing families to show they meet income requirements.

The law says schools and districts are eligible if at least 40 percent of their students are directly certified as eligible for free school meals; that typically means their families participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or the students are homeless or in foster care.

Under Rokita’s proposal, that threshold would rise to 60 percent.

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