Faced with an exodus of students to charter schools, Indianapolis’ biggest school district is urging the city’s mayor to be more discriminating in using the unusual authority he has to approve charter school proposals.
Mayor Bart Peterson has authorized 16 charter schools in the five years since he became the first mayor in the country with the power to do so. In that time, Indianapolis Public Schools’ enrollment has dropped from 41,000 to 37,000.
While charter school growth doesn’t account for all that decline, Superintendent Eugene G. White says that it’s a significant factor, and that the result is a reduction in state funding, which is based on enrollment.
“We have to have some happy medium, where we offer choice, but also enhance the traditional public school system,” he said last week.
Although local news accounts said late last month that Mr. White planned to ask Mayor Peterson, a Democrat, for a moratorium on new charter schools, the superintendent said after meeting with the mayor last week he didn’t ask for one because he knows how strongly Mr. Peterson supports charters.
Instead, Mr. White said, he’s calling on the mayor and other charter authorizers in the area to give more careful scrutiny to whether the proposed schools are really needed. He also urges that charter schools be held more accountable for their students’ performance.
The district notes that while Indianapolis Public Schools is only one of 11 school districts in the city—although by far the largest—13 of the charter schools approved by the mayor are within its boundaries.
Indianapolis charter schools get more public money if they’re within IPS because the district has a higher per-pupil allocation than other systems in the city—a situation district supporters hope to change with state legislation.
Justin Ohlemiller, the mayor’s press secretary, said last week that his boss is sensitive to Mr. White’s concerns, but that slowing the growth of charter schools is not something the mayor is likely to consider.
“They’re successful in providing additional public education schooling options in our city,” he said. “And they have the capacity of building up public education across the board by infusing creative ideas.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week