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Push to give charter schools local tax dollars stalls in Indiana Senate

The Indiana House passed HB 1072, which would have required districts to share operating and safety referendum dollars, but it won't have a hearing in the Senate.

INDIANAPOLIS — The number of charter schools in Indiana has increased tenfold since lawmakers first allowed them 20 years ago. 

Lawmakers have increased funding over the years, but a push to give charter schools local tax dollars appears to have stalled in the state legislature.

The Indiana House passed HB 1072, which would have required districts to share operating and safety referendum dollars. However, this week the Senate Appropriations Committee decided not to have a hearing for the bill.

Charter school leaders, including Paramount Englewood Principal Darius Sawyers, supported the proposal. He said his school serves mostly Black and brown students. Reporting based on his calculations, Sawyers said, "we could be looking at a swing of anywhere to an additional $4,000 to $7,000 per student if those referendum dollars are shared."

State records show Indiana has 10 times more charter schools than when the first 11 opened in 2002. State records show the number grew to 65 in 2011 and now there are 116 charter schools in the state.

As the number of charters grew, the conversation about how to pay for and support them evolved.

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In 2015, legislators created the Charter & Innovation Network School Grant Program. The goal is to provide more than $47 million in yearly grants by 2023.

In 2020, lawmakers passed a bill letting districts decide if they wanted to share tax dollars with charters. In a controversial move, Indianapolis Public Schools recently decided to share $5 million annually with charters in its innovation network. The money comes from a referendum approved by voters in 2018.

In both those cases, not all charters are eligible for the money. That's why many support a push to give charters more access to local tax dollars and requiring districts to share more of those funds.

Sawyers said he would use the money for more classroom supports and to pay for additional teachers and assistance, to name a few.

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The commandant and CEO of Anderson Preparatory Academy, Jill Barker, said those dollars would allow her to make updates to the school and increase teacher pay.

"So when the charter school movement first started, you know, 22 years ago, it was, 'You can do more with less," Barker said. "And many schools have proven that they can ... but over the last two decades, there have been a lot of mandates come down from the legislators from the IDOE that are not funded."

Barker thinks referendum sharing will help charters live up to Indiana standards. She would like lawmakers to find a way to move the issue forward this legislative session.

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