Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education Funding

Indianapolis Charters Spur Budget Debate

By Caroline Hendrie — October 23, 2002 4 min read

The designers of the 21st Century Community School in Indianapolis didn’t set out to create a school built around a railroad theme. But that hasn’t stopped them from having plenty of fun with the brand-new charter school’s location in Union Station, the city’s redeveloped 1920s-era railway depot where office workers and shoppers now rub elbows with travelers catching the 8:25 to Chicago.

Visitors to the school’s Web site are greeted with the toot of a locomotive whistle. Students are putting on a musical about rail travel. And the equipment on the school’s 15,000-square-foot playground, which is built on an old platform for elevated trains, was inspired by the railroads’ glory days.

“If you look up at the bridge that used to have trains going over, now you see kids playing,” said John Hayden, the “mentor teacher” who serves as the school’s principal. “Our school is right where the first seven tracks used to be.”

Mr. Hayden has high hopes for his new 119-student school, believing that its emphasis on project-based, multiage, and technology-intensive instruction will be the ticket to big gains in student learning. But not everyone is as excited to see his Union Station dream school get rolling. In fact, officials from the city’s largest school district, which started its own alternative school in the historic train station last year, have started suggesting that the city’s new charter schools are threatening to derail the district’s budget.

Indiana’s first 11 charter schools opened for business this school year, with four of them located within the Indianapolis Public Schools district. That makes the district the only one in the state to host more than one of the independent public schools, and IPS officials say they are feeling the pinch.

The “2 Percent Minimum”

“We aren’t anti- charter school,” said Rebecca R. Bibbs, a spokeswoman for the district. “We’ve taken the position that any options necessary to help students achieve is important, and if that means charter schools, so be it. The issue is more with the funding.”

Like more than half of Indiana’s school systems, IPS has its state aid calculated under a provision known as the “2 percent minimum guarantee.” That exception to the regular per-student method of determining state aid aims to ensure at least small funding increases to school systems that have stable or declining enrollments.

For the fiscal year starting in January, the district’s proposed spending plan is $489 million, up by 5.5 percent, or $25.7 million, from this year’s budget.

Despite that bottom-line increase, though, Indianapolis Public Schools officials say the new charter schools pose fiscal problems because many of the students at the start-up schools had previously gone to private schools. Now that the district must share its revenues with those new students to the public school sphere, IPS officials say, less money per pupil is left for IPS students than would have been the case if the charters had never opened.

Ronald Black, the IPS business manager, said the district is sending charter schools about $1.5 million this year for students who live within the district, but who had not gone to IPS schools.

“This ends up being quite a bit of a loss for us,” said Ms. Bibbs.

The IPS, by far the largest of the 11 school districts within the Indianapolis city limits and the biggest statewide, saw its enrollment dip this fall by about 580 students, to 40,660, Ms. Bibbs said.

About 460 of the roughly 650 students enrolled in the four new charter schools reside within the IPS boundaries, according to the office of Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, who granted charters to three of the four new schools. Indiana’s charter law, enacted last year, allows school districts, the state’s public universities, and the Indianapolis mayor to authorize charters.

An aide to Mr. Peterson, who is the only mayor in the country to have statutory authority to sponsor charter schools, said the mayor is “sensitive” to districts’ budget concerns.

“We have to balance the strong desires of parents to have additional high-quality public schools against any fiscal implications they may have on the districts, and we think we’ve done that,” said David E. Harris, who works for the mayor as the city’s charter school director.

Mr. Hayden of the 21st Century Community School, a longtime public school educator himself, also says he understands the money woes felt by the district.

But he says he is under much tougher budget constraints himself at his fledgling “one room” school, which currently serves children in grades K-6, and plans to expand to K-12. “We’re really having to scramble to make sure we meet all of our financial commitments,” he said.

Balancing his books has been harder than he expected because school districts are interpreting the new charter law in a way that is producing a lengthy delay in some payments. Mr. Black of the IPS agreed that the charter schools were being hurt by that kink in the charter statute and said the legislature should address that and other problems in the law.

Timothy P. Ehrgott, the president of the Irvington Community School, a newly opened 115-student charter school in Indianapolis, agrees.

“Some sort of solution has to be worked out,” he said, adding that he didn’t want funding disputes to wreck the relationship between charter schools and districts.

“We’re all public schools,” he said.

“In the end, it shouldn’t be about money or what school gets it. It should be about making sure the kids are taken care of, wherever they are.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

Education Funding Congress Could Go Big on COVID-19 Aid for Schools After Democrats Take Control
Education leaders hoping for another round of coronavirus relief might get their wish from a new Congress.
2 min read
The U.S. Capitol Dome
Sun shines on the U.S. Capitol dome, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/AP
Education Funding How Much Each State Will Get in COVID-19 Education Aid, in Four Charts
This interactive presentation has detailed K-12 funding information about the aid deal signed by President Donald Trump in December 2020.
1 min read
Education Funding Big Picture: How the Latest COVID-19 Aid for Education Breaks Down, in Two Charts
The massive package enacted at year's end provides billions of dollars to K-12 but still falls short of what education officials wanted.
1 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty
Education Funding Education Dept. Gets $73.5 Billion in Funding Deal That Ends Ban on Federal Aid for Busing
The fiscal 2021 deal increases K-12 aid for disadvantaged students, special education, and other federal programs.
3 min read
FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2020, file photo, the Washington skyline is seen at dawn with from left the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.
In this Nov. 8, 2020, file photo, the Washington skyline is seen at dawn with from left the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. (File Photo-Associated Press)<br/>
J. Scott Applewhite/AP