The Indiana State Board of Education is moving forward with plans to form a committee that is expected to look closely into how virtual charter schools are regulated.
The step comes nearly five months after Gov. Eric Holcomb called for “immediate attention and action” on Indiana’s subpar online charter schools. Board member Gordon Hendry will lead the committee, which represents the state’s first move to give the schools more oversight after a Chalkbeat investigation of Indiana Virtual School last year revealed how state law doesn’t go far enough to hold operators and authorizers of online charter schools accountable.
The resolution proposed by Hendry was approved by an 8-0 vote on Wednesday.
“I’ve been disappointed with performance (of virtual charters schools),” Hendry said. “Our taxpayers are spending tens of millions of dollars each year to educate the students in virtual charters. I think we owe it to ourselves to ensure we’re doing everything possible to make that happen.”
So far, lawmakers have been hesitant to to take decisive action regarding virtual charter schools. This year, the legislature killed three bills that would have regulated charter schools, though they didn’t specifically address virtual charter schools. Seven virtual charter schools are operating in Indiana this year, serving about 12,000 students across the state.
Hendry said board members Katie Mote and Maryanne McMahon already offered to be on the committee. It’s not clear how often they would meet.
Three board members, including state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and Byron Ernest, the former head of three virtual charter schools in the state, were not present to vote.
Hendry and board member B.J. Watts said they wanted Ernest to weigh in on the committee’s future conversations because of his experience leading Hoosier Academies, a post Ernest left last fall.
But the schools’ history with the state board has been fraught at times. In 2015, Hoosier Academy Virtual, then one of the largest full-time online charter schools in the state, reached its limit for consecutive F grades. After several hearings over more than two years, the state board finally decided to impose a fairly lenient punishment.
Just a couple of months later, the school’s own board voted to close at the end of this year.
Hendry said both local and national problems with online charter schools prompted him to propose the resolution.
“It’s my intent to spend the next four to six months really delving into the issues,” Hendry said. “And making some recommendations for both this board as well as the General Assembly to consider.”
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.