Charter school study likely to stoke legislative debate

A state-funded study of Indiana’s charter schools has found that "no practical difference" exists between the alternative
schools and traditional public schools.

The 180-page report is expected to stoke legislative debate in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, where one Democratic
lawmaker plans to seek a moratorium on new charter schools and try to restrict their funding.

"They are not making the significant difference that they were envisioned to do," said state Rep. Vernon Smith,
DGary, who
serves on the House Education Committee. "The bottom line is that they’re not producing."

Legislators agreed to spend $100,000 on the charter school study last year after Smith led unsuccessful attempts to place
a moratorium on new charter schools.

Smith told The Times of Munster he plans to revive those efforts when the Legislature
reconvenes next month.

The report by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University contains a wealth of information about
charter schools, which lawmakers authorized seven years ago.

But it doesn’t declare a winner in the partisan feud over whether charter schools outperform traditional public schools.

Among the report’s conclusions, it says that "at the elementary and middle school
levels, the available data suggest little practical difference between student outcomes in charter versus traditional public
schools, although student outcomes in charter schools have improved over the past few years."

The report also says not enough data was available to make conclusions about student performance at charter high schools.

And the authors don’t reach any conclusion on whether the schools deserve more or less public funding.

"People have staked out black-and-white
positions, yet the reality exists in shades of gray," said Jonathan Plucker, director of the IU center that published
report. "Some of the things I thought I knew about charter schools turned out to be things I needed to reconsider, and
hope this evaluation has that effect on others."

Charter schools, which enjoy greater curriculum freedom than public schools, began in Minnesota in 1992 and a decade later
they came to Indiana, which now has 49 charter schools.

The IU study found racial minorities,
primarily black students, account for 70 percent of enrollment in Indiana charter schools, which are clustered in urban areas.

Students there pass achievement tests at rates within a few percentage points of statewide averages for public schools.

Indiana school districts spent $11,043 per pupil last year, the study found, while charter schools averaged $9,279. But because
charter schools don’t receive funding for transportation or facilities, those facilities spent about $2,000 more per child
from their general funds.

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