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Ball State pulls sponsorship of 7 charter schools

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Ball State University has pulled its sponsorship of seven academically struggling Indiana charter schools — a loss that will likely to result in the schools' closure, a university official said Tuesday.

Imagine Indiana Life Sciences Academy-East, at 4352 N. Mitthoefer  Road in Indianapolis, is one of the seven schools.

The seven schools were subjected to an "extensive review" of their performance — including academics, finances and compliance — by Ball State, which denied their requests for charter contract renewals.

Two other schools withdrew their requests for contract renewals and also will likely close their doors after their university-approved charters end June 30, said Bob Marra, executive director of the university's Office of Charter School.

He said the 3,900 students who attend those schools can transfer next school year to other charter schools, or go to public or private schools.

"None of these schools should be surprised," Marra said in a statement, adding that the schools had shown insufficient academic progress. "It is our responsibility to not renew the school, which usually leads to closure.

"While I understand it may cause some short-term difficulty for families, it is a decision made in the long-term best interests of their students," he said.

Officials with Kenneth A. Christmon STEMM Leadership Academy in Richmond and Charter School of the Dunes in Gary said they plan to appeal Ball State's decisions.

Kenneth A. Christmon STEMM Leadership Academy received good reviews each of the previous five years before receiving a failing grade last year, chief academic officer Kevin Handley said. He blamed that on the state changing the method of assessing schools.

Marra said the decisions weren't based on one school year.

Ball State reviewed the performance of 20 of the 42 charter schools it sponsors in Indiana. The 11 other schools received either 3-year or 5-year contract renewals. The university had previously pulled its sponsorship of only one charter school, Urban Brightest in Fort Wayne, in 2004.

Charter schools are alternative public schools that have had more freedom in setting curriculum, but state law was changed last year to hold charters to the same academic standards as public schools.

State lawmakers authorized Ball State a decade ago to sponsor charter schools in Indiana and Marra said the university approved the first one in 2002. Last year, lawmakers approved allowing a second office, the Indiana Charter School Board, to authorize charter schools in the state.

The Indianapolis Star reported last month that a charter school sponsor trade group, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said in a recent report that Ball State had not done an adequate job of overseeing the charter schools it sponsors.

Marra said his office's most recent review has opened a new phase of its scrutiny of its Indiana charter schools. He said the university would review the 22 other charter schools it sponsors when their contracts come up for review.

The other four schools denied contract renewals are Imagine MASTer Academy, Timothy L. Johnson Academy, and Imagine Schools on Broadway, all in Fort Wayne; and LEAD College Preparatory Charter School in Gary.

Handley said he's not sure what Kenneth A. Christmon STEMM Leadership Academy will do if its appeal fails.

"But we feel like we have options," he said.

He wouldn't specify what those options are. The school has 210 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The two schools that withdrew their requests for contract renewals are Hoosier Academy-Muncie in Muncie and the Indiana West Gary Lighthouse Charter School in Gary.

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