Indianapolis residents will have the chance Monday to offer input on the fate of three city schools ahead of a decision that could determine if they remain in the hands of a Florida-based charter company.
The Indiana Charter Schools Board is expected to decide next month whether to grant charters so the schools can remain with the state-appointed manager, Charter Schools USA. If the board does not grant those charters, the future of the schools is uncertain — state officials could return them to Indianapolis Public Schools, close them, or find another solution.
The three schools — Howe and Manual high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School — have been under state control since 2012, and they are expected to transition out of takeover next year. Before the charter board decides whether to approve charters for the schools, Indianapolis Public Schools plans to make a last-minute plea to the state board of education for the return of Donnan, so the district can bring in a new, local manager. But IPS officials have been less clear about what role they hope to play at Howe and Manual.
In order for the charter network, known as CSUSA, to continue managing the schools, they must win the endorsement of the charter board. One potential concern is the strikingly high number of students who left Howe and Manual without diplomas, as uncovered in a recent Chalkbeat investigation.
Both schools have disproportionately large numbers of students labeled as leaving to home-school, and if those students had been included in the state graduation calculations, graduation rates likely would have plummeted. In the class of 2018, for example, Manual reported 83 graduates, six dropouts, and 60 students who left at some point during their high school years to be home-schooled. But many of those students may not be continuing their education at all, since the state does not track home-schooling.
Those numbers signal that “the distinction between home-school and dropout is really disappearing,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, in an interview with Chalkbeat earlier this year.
CSUSA officials told Chalkbeat that parents decide whether to home-school their children and attributed the high numbers to the “high-risk students” the schools educate.
The network will need to make the case to the charter board that it is serving students well, and the large numbers of students leaving Howe and Manual without diplomas could be a red flag.
Another potential hindrance came up this week. Indianapolis Public Schools abruptly decided to end its existing innovation partnership with CSUSA at Donnan — throwing a wrench in the plan for the collaboration to continue.
It’s unclear whether losing the alliance with the district will diminish CSUSA’s chances of gaining approval for its plan from the charter board.
“We are still trying to figure out what impact, if any, it has on our decision,” said James Betley, executive director of the Indiana Charter School Board. “It is a moving target right now.”
Betley said he is seeking more information from the district about why it wants to cut ties with CSUSA and how proposals from Howe and Manual to lease district buildings for $1 could financially affect IPS.
IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, who described the large numbers of students leaving Howe and Manual to home-school as “very concerning,” said at a press briefing Tuesday that leaders are wrestling with what the future of the schools means for the district financially, what the community wants, and how the outcome will impact the stability of families.
IPS board member Diane Arnold said that at this point, the decision about the future of Howe and Manual is out of the district’s hands.
“We would like to have control of those facilities back,” Arnold said. “Then we will have to decide what the best course of action is — whether we’re looking for new innovation partners or whatever may come.”
The charter board will hold a hearing to gather public input at 5:30 p.m. on Monday at Emmerich Manual High School. It is expected to vote on the charters at a meeting on December 13.