Ball State rejection threatens two Indy charter schools

Two Indianapolis charter schools could be forced to close in May after Ball State University declined their applications.

The two schools—Fall Creek and Fountain Square academies—operate under the oversight of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. But Ballard in March ordered the Fountain Square Academy to close in 2012 for performance reasons and delayed renewing the charter for Fall Creek Academy. Fall Creek withdrew its application this fall.

After the mayor's decision, the schools’ boards of directors applied to Ball State in order to keep operating Fall Creek and to launch a new school in Fountain Square. Ball State officials told school officials Monday night that their applications would be denied.

Officials at Ball State could not be reached Wednesday morning for comment. The decisions affect 385 students at Fall Creek and 270 students at Fountain Square.

Charter schools receive public funding for each student they sign up, but they must also satisfy the demands of an authorizing agency in order to remain open. Ballard, Ball State, the State Board of Education and public school districts are the only entities currently with the power to approve charter schools.

In March, Ballard said Fountain Square had not posted strong enough academic performance to merit staying open. He said Fall Creek’s academic performance had been better, but he said he would wait until 2011 test results came back before making a decision on the school.

Results from the 2011 state standardized ISTEP tests were strong at both schools. Fall Creek has students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Fountain Square has students in grades 5-12.

The ISTEP is given to students in grades 3-8.

At Fall Creek, 76 percent of its students passed the math portion of the ISTEP and 61 percent passed the English portion—increases of 7 percent and 17 percent, respectively, over the school’s results from the previous year.

At Fountain Square Academy, 78 percent of its middle-school students passed the math portion of ISTEP and 64 percent passed the English portion. Those passing rates were up by 62 percent and 26 percent, respectively, over the school’s results from the previous year.

“That’s huge. No school in Indiana had that kind of a gain,” Kevin Teasley, president of the Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation, which manages both schools, told IBJ in June.

The overall gains in test scores satisfied the demands for adequate yearly progress, as established by the federal No Child Left Behind law, although neither school had enough gains in all subcategories to fully meet the law’s standard.

Fall Creek and Fountain Square have 86 percent and 90 percent of their students, respectively, qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, which is the education sector's measure of poverty. Low-income students tend to struggle in school more than affluent students.

Another charter school sponsored by Ballard, Stonegate Early College High School, announced last week that it would close this month for financial reasons. Its 210 students are now looking for new schools in the middle of the academic year.

Teasley declined to comment Wednesday on Ball State’s decision, other than to say, “I’m not turning my back on Fountain Square.”

Ballard promised in March to find a new school to replace the Fountain Square Academy, but so far no school operators have stepped forward.

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