Federal officials: Ritz erred with charter school funding cuts

An email from the U.S. Department of Education to the Indiana Department of Education says the state incorrectly applied provisions of federal law when determining this year’s Title I poverty aid for charter schools.

This year, one-third of Indiana charter schools saw large cuts in their share of federal poverty aid, known as Title I funding, prompting charter school leaders to complain that the state could be violating federal law. State officials announced earlier on Friday that they would seek federal guidance on how to distribute the funds.

“Based on the facts as (the U.S. Department of Education) understands them, corrective action by (the Indiana Department of education) will likely be required,” the email said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz’s department did not base Title I funding for charter schools on the prior year’s funding as the law requires, federal officials said. In doing so, charter schools got a “Title I allocation that declined by more than 15 percent from their FY 2014 total allocation,” the email said.

Fewer than 1 percent of traditional public school districts saw as steep of cuts, federal officials added.

Chalkbeat previously reported that the federal law says any “state education agency” (in this case, the Indiana Department of Education) cannot reduce the amount of Title I funding for a “local education agency” (a school district or individual charter school) by more than a certain percentage from the prior year.

These “hold harmless” rules are created to help schools stabilize their budgets from year to year.

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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