Four months after the State Board of Education ordered the manager of two Indianapolis high schools in takeover to seek charters, it remains uncertain when that will happen and which authorizer will be asked to approve the schools.
In February representatives of Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based private company known as CSUSA, said they would immediately file applications for charters to run Thomas Carr Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools as independent charters when takeover status ends in mid-2020.
In response, the Indiana Charter School Board provided an exception for the applications to be submitted past deadline.
But days before a public hearing, the applications for Howe and Manual were withdrawn by the nonprofit board created to oversee the schools.
During Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting, a CSUSA representative said that board, called ReThink Foward Indiana, wanted more time to consider the applications.
“They appreciate the opportunity to reengage in the thoughtful process of compiling our charters, working together as a board,” said Eric Lewis, state director for Noble Education Initiative, a spin-off of CSUSA that manages the company’s Indianapolis schools. “And they will be making a decision in regards to the authorizer they will choose, and working through the process with that particular authorizer that they choose on their application process.”
David Freitas, a state board member, says he was not concerned about the withdrawal.
“I don’t think they are going to have a problem getting a charter in Indiana,” he said.
The withdrawn applications called for the eastside Howe to expand to a K-12 school from its current 7-12 grades. Manual would remain a 9-12 school but increase enrollment by about 500 students to 1,200 students.
The state hired Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company, to turnaround the two schools and Emma Donnan Middle School as part of the 2012 state takeover of five chronically failing schools. Noble Education Initiative, a nonprofit offshoot of CSUSA run by its former academic leader Sherry Hage, has been managing the high schools for CSUSA since 2017.
This year the groups created ReThink Forward Indiana to seek the charters for each school. The nonprofit’s principal address is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Derek Redelman is ReThink’s chairman. He’s a former vice president for education policy for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
After six years of state intervention, Manual and Howe are now rated a C on the state’s 2018 A-F accountability grades. Howe remains an F and is the longest failing school in Indiana. Accountability grades for the seventh year of takeover, the 2018-19 school year, won’t be released until later this year.
Howe’s principal, Lloyd Knight, posted on social media last week that 100% of students graduated this month. Knight also said he was leaving the school for another job.
During Wednesday’s presentation, Misty Ndiritu, Noble Education Initiative's new state director, said the schools were improving academically compared to 2015-16 data.
No board members questioned the rate of academic improvement. B.J. Watts, board chair, praised the parental support and engamgenet at each of the schools.
At Emma Donnan -- 20.8% of students passed both math and English portions of the ISTEP test in 2017-18 compared to 8.7% in 2016. Last year, there were 262 suspensions compared to 211 suspensions this year.
At Howe -- 18.8% of students passed both math and English portions of the ISTEP test in 2017-18 compared to 11.3% in 2016. Last year, there were 271 suspensions. A goal for this year is 244 suspensions.
At Manual -- 8.5% of students passed both math and English portions of the 10th-grade ISTEP test in 2017-18 compared to no students passing. Last year, there were 365 suspensions. A goal for this year is 329 suspensions.
The state board also approved $1.5 million in special school improvement funds for the three schools managed by Charter Schools USA. That brings the total federal school improvement funds the company received since mid-2012 to $22.3 million, according to state documents.
Board member Byron Ernest recused himself from the vote because he works for Noble Education Initiative.
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick voted against the funds. The Indiana Department of Education recommended about $1 million less in funds.
After the meeting, McCormick said her vote was not to deprive Charter Schools USA of funds but to allow more funds to be used at other struggling schools.
“There’s just not enough money to go around,” McCormick said. “That’s really our concern.”
The State Board approved a total of $6.8 million in improvement funds to Kokomo Public Schools, Indianapolis Public Schools and others.