Charter schools bill would strip Indy council’s authority

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The Indianapolis City-County Council would lose its authority to veto mayor-sponsored charter school applications, under a little-noticed provision of a charter school administration bill.

The bill passed the Indiana House, 65-30, on Feb. 25. Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said he removed the council’s authority over charter schools at the request of the Mayor’s Office, though he couldn’t name the person who attended his meetings on the bill.

Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth said he had heard about the bill but couldn’t comment on it.

Behning noted that the mayor is the only charter-school authorizer in the state who must jump through that extra hoop of council approval.

Behning Behning

 “When it comes down to studying the issues, he’s the group that has the staff that does the appropriate assessment,” he said.

He added that he thinks the council’s input would be political, “as opposed to what’s in the best interest of children.”

The council recently approved seven new charter schools in Indianapolis. At-large Councilor John Barth, who chairs the committee that reviews charter applications, was surprised to learn about the bill, considering the outcome of that process.

“Charter schools, whether people like it or not, are still controversial, and what gives the charter process overseen by the mayor legitimacy is that there’s elected-official, public oversight of the process,” Barth said.

The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, the city’s first charter schools director under former Mayor Bart Peterson, sees no reason to tinker with the current structure. While stripping the council of its oversight, the bill would also make the mayor accountable to a state board overseeing all charter authorizers.

“I think we have the ideal form of accountability,” Harris said, adding that he couldn’t recall a charter-school approval that ever received fewer than 20 votes from the 29-member council.

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