State plans to comply after errors found in charter funding

The Indiana Department of Education says it will comply with rules governing the distribution of poverty aid after federal education officials notified the state late last week that its approach was “inconsistent with the statute and regulations.”

The news comes after charter schools, school choice advocates and two U.S. congressmen complained that charter schools had been treated unfairly by the IDOE in this year’s distribution of Title I money. Under the distribution, several charters lost considerably more than their counterparts at traditional public schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was accused of favoring traditional public schools over charters after the IDOE reduced the federal aid meant to boost achievement for poor students.

IDOE spokesman Daniel Altman said the state agency would “gladly” comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance.

“We want every school to be funded equitably,” Altman said. “We’re obviously going to make sure the schools get the money they were supposed to get.”

Federal rules say that state education agencies are required to give districts and charter schools at least 85 percent of their previous year’s allotment of federal Title I money in order to keep programs consistent.

But data from the Indiana State Charter School Board showed that 47 percent of charter schools received Title I allocations that declined by more than 15 percent. Fewer than 1 percent of traditional school districts received such a decrease, according to an email sent Thursday morning from federal officials to the IDOE.

In the email, federal education officials told IDOE that “corrective action … will likely be required.” The U.S. DOE did not immediately respond to IBJ’s request for comment.

“The statute and regulations make no distinction” between regular school districts and charter schools, Monique Chism, the federal director of the Office of State Support, told the IDOE in the email. She wrote that IDOE “circumvented the protection provided by the hold-harmless provisions” for charter schools in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

On Friday afternoon, the IDOE released a statement that it was seeking more federal guidance on how to distribute the funds. Previously, the state agency had attributed the drops to incorrect paperwork submitted by charter schools. Altman said that caused part of the confusion.

“We had a situation that hadn’t come up before,” Altman said. “‘[The feds] said, ‘Here’s the way we’re looking at it.’ We’ll go from there.”

 

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