Brandon Brown: Public charter school students deserve fair resources

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Should charter schools get a share of a school district’s property tax revenue?

Indianapolis families are blessed with a variety of school options within our city center, including public charter schools, which are tuition-free, open to all students and accountable for results. Most Indianapolis charter schools are authorized by our elected mayor and produce impressive academic gains.

Families consistently find charter schools to be high-quality options. In fact, the majority of the 44,700 public-school students within Indianapolis Public Schools boundaries attend charter schools. A 2022 study from Stanford University found that Indianapolis charter-school students achieve academic growth that surpasses that of their peers locally and statewide.

Despite these successes, charter schools in Indiana do not have access to property tax funding. As a result, students in independent charter schools in Indianapolis face a funding gap of more than $7,000 per student. Since our city’s charter schools serve mostly Black, Latino and low-income students, this gap primarily hurts our most vulnerable students.

This year, IPS will receive $224 million in local property taxes to fund operations, debt service and multiple operating and capital referendums. But thousands of students in independent charter schools will receive nothing, even though their parents pay taxes and vote.

Charter school students should benefit from property tax revenue since their schools are public, drive consistent learning gains, and face a large funding gap. If left unaddressed, the gap will continue to grow and disadvantage thousands of families solely because they chose a public school that works best for their child.

The Legislature plays a critical role in addressing this problem. Multiple bills under consideration at the Statehouse would go a long way to closing the funding gap, and solutions do not need to come at the expense of students in district-run schools.

Legislation providing state funding for capital costs and sharing of future operating referendums won’t take a cent of existing funding from district schools yet will greatly benefit charter-school students who are consistently shortchanged. Additionally, solutions that involve sharing existing property taxes can be phased in over time so that all students win.

Local leaders also have a role to play. In our city, IPS has led the way for almost a decade when it comes to forging partnerships with charter schools. IPS leaders should be applauded for their efforts to collaborate with charter schools via the growth of the district’s innovation network.

IPS also approved sharing a portion of its 2018 operating referendum with innovation network schools, proving that local dollars can be shared to benefit more public-school students. It will take this collaborative spirit for our community to come together and chart a long-term vision for the almost 45,000 public-school students within IPS boundaries.

The right to a quality education is a cornerstone in American society. Our city has capitalized on this right by creating innovative public-school options that coexist with traditional districts. Lawmakers and local leaders have a responsibility to address these shifts in our education system so that all public-school students receive the high-quality education they deserve.•

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Brown is CEO of The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education not-for-profit. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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