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Congressmen: Ritz should explain drop in charter aid

September 23, 2015

U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are calling for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to explain why some charter schools lost more federal Title 1 poverty funding than traditional public schools this year, alleging they were not treated “fairly and equitably” by the state Department of Education.

The Republican congressmen sent Ritz, a Democrat, a letter Monday asking the department to explain the formula used this year to determine Title 1 funding levels.

IBJ reported Sept. 15 that charter schools, which were reeling after receiving steep federal poverty aid cuts, had raised concerns to the department and the U.S. Department of Education that they were not being treated equally under the law, since many traditional public schools saw their federal poverty aid grow.

Charters said the budget cuts exceed federal limits meant to protect schools from sudden program changes.

“This is particularly troubling given that no traditional public school corporation experienced similar cuts,” Messer and Rokita wrote. “Public school students should not be penalized because they chose to attend a public charter school that best fits their educational needs.”

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said the funding discrepancies were the result of charter schools submitting incorrect data.

“There were some schools that submitted incorrect data that we are working with to get their data correct,” Altman told IBJ in an email. “We are allowing schools to correct their data for Title I allocation purposes only.”

Meanwhile, Carey Dahncke, the chief academic officer for Christel House Academy South in Indianapolis, which took a 20-percent hit to its Title 1 budget this year, said Tuesday that he has not yet heard from the Indiana Department of Education about how to proceed.

“It is still an outstanding issue,” Dahncke said.

Altman blamed the complaints on partisanship.

"It is unfortunate that Rep. Messer has chosen to insert politics into our classrooms," he said in a follow-up email. "The simple truth is that the department is distributing Title I funds according to federal regulations in the exact same manner it has for years across multiple administrations, despite a $3.5 million reduction in funding from Rep. Messer and the federal government." 

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