Amelia Pak-Harvey, writing for Chalkbeat Indiana, has a report indicating that roughly 1/3 of charter schools in Indianapolis have closed since 2001. Indiana accountability standards for charter schools are fairly weak and not coherent or comprehensive.
Pedigo’s school is one of 31 in-person or blended-model charter schools that have closed in Indianapolis since 2001 — roughly a third of 91 such schools, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of school identification information from the state. Some, like Carpe Diem, appeared to be given the power by authorizers to expand too soon. Some faced declining enrollment, yet were allowed by authorizers to stay open. And some were rejected by one authorizer, only to be approved by another.
While closing schools represents a form of accountability, the volume of closures turns a spotlight on Indiana’s charter authorizers. These boards, often connected to government agencies or universities, essentially provide the oversight an elected school board would for traditional public schools. As the city’s charter enrollment grows, observers question whether authorizers are doing enough gatekeeping and quality control of schools — and whether the state’s own oversight of authorizers has been lax.
Charter oversight in general has created intense controversy in Indiana in recent years, although perhaps the most prominent example doesn’t involve brick-and-mortar schools. Following a 2017 Chalkbeat investigation, state auditors alleged that operators of two virtual charter schools inflated enrollment numbers to improperly obtain and disperse tens of millions of dollars. The state sued to recover the money, and the case is still in court.
Not really a focus of this article, but to me it underscores the duality of Indiana’s approach to school size and scale. When it comes to rural schools in particular, the General Assembly seems to promote consolidation. At the same time, it aggressively pursues a charter and voucher policy which fractures the school landscape, primarily in urban areas. The message to rural school systems is “get big and save money.” The message to charters is “we don’t care how small, decentralized, or inefficient you are so long as you offer ‘choice’ to urban and suburban populations.”