Read at the January 23, 2024 MCCSC Board of School Trustees meeting.
Dear MCCSC School Board Members,
My name is Keri Miksza and I am the current chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County. We are a membership driven, volunteer run organization composed of local community members.
Our organization’s vision is for all children to have high-quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities. At their best, public schools bring students together and provide environments where children get to know, respect, and learn along with others of diverse races, family incomes, religions, and worldviews. Democracy needs public schools.
We know that balancing MCCSC elementary schools has been in the works since before the pandemic. For example, in the fall of 2019, the district held a fireside chat covering the history of redistricting in MCCSC that was very informative. It’s now been almost 20 years since the last redistricting effort. And some may say the three rounds of redistricting between 1990 and 2005 didn’t go far enough to balance our elementary schools even though in one redistricting effort in the mid-90s. Understanding the history of our district is important and should be publicly documented for community members to access.
ICPE Monroe County would also like to clarify a 4 year old Capstone report that is being referenced a bit in our community. The 2021 report was the work of masters students in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. It was a summer project. We are grateful to them for their valuable work, but they had limited access to data, limited time, and pandemic challenges. If the board or community refers to that report, they should take this into consideration.
Since the last redistricting effort in 2005, Indiana now operates under a consumer-based school choice landscape created by Indiana’s legislature. Districts of all sizes must be more nimble to best serve school-age community members in the face of state funding not keeping up with the rate of inflation and endless unfunded mandates by the state legislature. They control the purse strings and a lot of the rules.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County supports redistricting efforts. We believe that integration by income and race can help realize the full potential of our public schools—the heart of our community. In addition we support MCCSC instituting a regularly scheduled review of our district schools to ensure that they are consistently balanced as best possible.
Balanced schools help to reduce racial achievement gaps; encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity; and can improve students’ satisfaction and intellectual self-confidence. They can help cultivate meaningful relationships between individuals with different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, which in turn impact how diverse students treat one another.
ICPE supports transparency, good research, and community involvement, which includes the employees of MCCSC, in this endeavor. Transparency helps create trust. We realize that balancing is NOT easy. It never is. We encourage all to read the historical Herald Times articles available via our amazing public library. Our community is not perfect. We humans can be close-minded in the face of fear of change. But hard things can be done for the sake of all of our community’s children. They are our community’s future.
A lot of us lean on measurements because we don’t want to be disappointed. We want the best, even if “the best” is subjective. What are the top Italian restaurants in South Bend on Yelp? What state has the cleanest air? What’s the best washing machine? What is the most fuel-efficient SUV? How does GreatSchools or Niche rank the schools in the district that you are moving to?
There is a lot of choice in Indiana when it comes to schools, so much so that it feels that K12 education has been transformed from a common good into a consumer good. We really want the best for our children. That’s obvious. In places where there is a glut of choice, we lean on data even more than we lean on soft ads guaranteeing things like small class sizes or schooling that is flexible to the learning preferences of the student. After all, we know those paid ads are from a school that wants the backpack full of cash your child might bring, be it from your bank account or the state’s account or an SGO or a little bit of all three.
Third-party sites like US News & World Reports, Niche, and GreatSchools pull data from the state school report card site, InView (formerly Compass). And then companies like Zillow pull data from Niche and Great Schools to help sell real estate (home buyers crave information).
Soon the state will put in place more school measurements. 2021’s HEA 1514 requires the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) to develop dashboards that “[promote] transparency and multiple student measures, including longitudinal measures.” You can see some plans here. And you can read more on the development in a recent Chalkbeat article.
But shouldn’t the existing measures be reviewed before adding more measures? Are some of these existing measures flawed? Should we give credence to the flawed measures used in marketing by schools or third parties like Niche or GreatSchools?
Does it make sense that a high school can lose over half its 9th grade class after 3 years and still have a graduation rate of over 90 percent?
To zero in on one category of data, let’s look at how graduation rates are calculated. Does it make sense that a high school can lose over half its 9th grade class after 3 years and still have a graduation rate of over 90 percent? It is, in fact, completely possible given how IDOE calculates these numbers.
The flaws in graduation rates have been highlighted in the news over the years. A 2019 Chalkbeat report suggested that struggling high schoolers were being counseled into homeschooling so that schools could avoid reporting them as dropouts. In 2006 the Indiana Chamber expressed skepticism about official graduation rates. And back in the Bobby Knight era, the graduation rates he claimed for his IU basketball players were the subject of scrutiny and questioning. (Even before the World Wide Web we couldn’t keep data straight.)
IDOE has a five-step formula for calculating graduation rates that is set by statute, and they perform audits every four years. And yet we still have market-driven problems that are produced by the need to be the best school. It is no surprise that the drive to maintain graduation rates and score high points on other forms of measurement on the state report card, as seen on InView, has led to a push-out problem.
John Harris Loflin of Parent–Power Indianapolis conducted a recent study of the graduation rates at one school. (The study has broader implications; Loflin says, “Although the report is about the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, it serves as a call for transparency regarding graduation rate figures for all Indiana public schools.”)
For example: For the 2020 school year, Tindley had a graduation rate of over 90%, yet it had lost over half of its 9th grade population by the time that cohort were seniors. What happened to those 46 students? Did they graduate elsewhere? Were some told they weren’t a good fit? Would you send your child to school that has a less than 50% retention rate for a cohort? It is also important to note: Tindley is a charter school that has an accelerated program. It prioritizes college admission above all else, with an image of college acceptance letters under its mission statement.
Tindley is not an easy school. But it is a school to which people aspire to send their children. They also have a solid boys’ basketball team. You can’t see that in the data. But you can learn about that by talking to people who know the school. More about that in a bit.
Finally, Tindley’s graduation data is all over the place, which makes one wonder what other data is all over the place? How can a consumer make a good decision when the data varies from site to site?
Here are the Tindley graduation rates found on various sites within a search conducted in less than 1 hour. Niche: 85%, GreatSchools: 98%, U.S. News & World Report: 81.1%.
The worst one is the state website, InView. On InView’s main page, Tindley has a graduation rate of 95.1% for the 2019–2020 year.
Using the “Compare” feature you get an 81.1% graduation rate—for the same year? for a different year? With no explanation or visible reason, the shopping comparison tool produces a different graduation rate. It’s bad that the state website can’t even produce consistent or CLEAR data.
Simply put, data this confusing, opaque, and contradictory is bunk for a consumer. My advice to parents and caregivers is to ignore all this data. It is flawed to the point that you can’t really get a clear picture of what happens in a school. Instead, rely on word of mouth. Call and visit the school you are exploring as a possibility for your child. Follow the school on social media. Attend a PTO meeting. Attend a school event. Ask important questions like, Are your teachers state-certified? How long is recess? Do you offer music, gym, and art? Do you have an after-school or before-school program? What happens if my child falls behind or excels faster than other children? Do you have a school therapist? Is the school financially stable and when is your charter (if a charter school) up for renewal? Ask to speak to parents who send their children to the school. Word of mouth may be your best option. Caveat emptor!
For more on marketing and schools, read this blog post about virtual charter schools.
For more writing about school reform in the Indianapolis area, follow Parent Power on Facebook and read more critiques and research by John Harris Loflin.
CALL to ACTION: Common-sense guardrails have been proposed for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). Please submit a comment in support of the proposed changes by this Monday, April 18, the end of the comment period. If adopted, the new rules could help lead to powerful improvements in the CSP. The US Department of Education needs to hear from public school advocates in support of these changes.
How many of us have had a charter school open up in our community with lots of big promises and shiny advertising? How many school districts have to make cuts as families and funds leave? (Case in point: Indianapolis Public Schools is looking to close buildings after years of charter schools siphoning students from the district.)
When students and families leave the public school system, communities fracture. Our public schools are sites that bring us together, from disparate political beliefs, religions, incomes, and racial backgrounds. In them, students learn to respect and interact with people different than themselves. Sports, theater, and musical performances bring together families from many walks of life to celebrate our children and our future. The loss of any one family or a group of families tears at this fabric, and it also reduces the collective commitment to maintaining resources and programs that are a source of community pride. It reduces the need to listen to many voices, to reconcile visions that are in tension with each other, and to engage in the hard work of democracy.
In the last decade--specifically, the 2010-11 to 2019-20 school years--Indiana has diverted more than $2.28 billion in tuition support to funding charter schools, which are privately run even though the statute calls them public. That's desperately needed money that leaves the public school system and enters an environment with hazy oversight, no accountability through elected boards, and a record of frequent school closures that interrupt children's relationships and education. Hands down, the most lurid example so far is the Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy scandal, in which the virtual charter schools fraudulently claimed to be educating students who were not enrolled in any classes, at great expense to taxpayers; our attorney general is currently suing the schools' representatives for $154 million.
The proposed rules for the federal Charter Schools Program would not shut down charters and would not reduce the money available to charters; rather, they would affect who is eligible to receive CSP grants and what the process of applying would involve. Two of the most meaningful changes are:
From our state group, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education:
Why this is important:
What we need you to do:
Don't have time to write a personalized comment? Send a letter through the NEA site. This will take about 30 seconds.
Comments must be received on or before this Monday, April 18. Your comment can have a big impact. Please act now.
P.S. The original deadline for comments was April 13, but the comment window was extended.
Charter operators are grasping at funding straws. They now want access to public school referendum tax dollars. But charters do not provide the same transparency of budget, expenditures, or governance and decision-making that public schools do. Before local property taxes go to charters, we should know how much their teachers are being paid and if they are getting insurance and benefits. We should know what is being spent in the classroom versus what is being spent on administrative costs. And we should know that we have a democratic voice in their governance—we should be able to elect their board members. In other words, to receive local property taxes, they should look and act a lot more like public schools than they do now.
Charters are not the only underfunded schools in Indiana.
In the months leading up to May and November—election season in Indiana—parents, teachers, and community leaders meet, strategize, and hammer out the logistics of campaigns. They donate time and money, make calls and knock on doors, because they want their local school districts to be able to continue to offer theater and music, world languages, p.e., and art. They want reasonable class sizes. And they want to retain teachers, coaches, janitors, and bus drivers. They can’t depend on the state of Indiana to provide what’s needed. Their unpaid volunteer labor is required just to get a question on the ballot, and to make a case for why voters should say “yes.”
Indiana is a referendum state, and has been for over a decade. What we call a “referendum” is known in other parts of the country as a “school tax levy”—a self-imposed additional property tax taken on by local voters to augment state funding for public schools. Usually this is for construction efforts, like building an addition or replacing windows. But in Indiana, it is also for day-to-day operations, like paying a classroom teacher. For example, the operational school tax levy, or referendum, for Monroe County Community School Corporation pays for 80 classroom teachers.
What brought Indiana public schools to such dire straits? Then-governor Mitch Daniels centralized the bulk of school funding and then cut the state school budget by $300 million in 2009. Indiana has underfunded its schools every year since. Not only has school funding not kept up with inflation, but lawmakers have channeled billions in public funds into private schools (through the school choice voucher program) and charter schools, which are called public schools in statute but are privately managed and appoint their own boards.
Simply to maintain adequate levels of staffing and programs for students, school districts must pass referenda. In this way, referenda are an instrument of disparity: districts that have the capacity—in terms of a tax base, volunteers, and businesses and individuals willing to pitch in to pay for a campaign—can pass a referendum and maintain the quality of their schools. School districts that don’t are forced to make painful cuts, losing teachers and programs.
Now, with House Bill 1072, which passed out of committee Thursday, Jan 20, 2022, legislators want to force school districts to share those desperately needed referendum funds with charter schools attended by children living in the school district boundaries. The state’s Legislative Services Agency calculated what the cost of this would be in the fiscal note attached to the bill: “In 2021, there were a combined 67 school operating or safety referenda levies. If school corporations were required to distribute a portion of their levies to nonvirtual charter schools, charter schools would have received an estimated $24.8 M of the $402.8 M certified referenda levies.” In other words, had the proposed law been in place in 2021, 6% of the money generated by school referenda would have gone to charter schools.
This is offensive on multiple levels. To state it baldly: Charter schools do not share the basic mission of serving all students in a community. They do not welcome and make room for every child. They do not answer to communities through elected boards. They should not be funded at the expense of the schools that do.
Here are seven reasons that lawmakers should reject House Bill 1072:
House Bill 1072 now goes to the full House for consideration. Contact your legislator and tell them to vote NO. Let sharing referendum funds be a local decision as it involves local tax dollars.
P.S. Want to get more specific about who to contact? Back in the dark ages…oh actually, back in 2020, it was controversial to even imagine giving school districts the option to share referendum proceeds with charters. An addendum to a bill that was sneaked in at the last moment said that districts *could* share referendum proceeds with charters. That addendum barely made it through.
These senators voted against the amendment. Ask them to vote NO again.
Sen Alting (R)
Sen Becker (R)
Sen Bohacek (R)
Sen Boots (R)
Sen Breaux (D)
Sen Buchanan (R)
Sen Crider (R)
Seon Donato (R)
Sen JD Ford (D)
Sen Freeman (R)
Sen Glick (R)
Sen Grooms (R) (retired, replaced by Kevin Boehnlein)
Sen Koch (R)
Sen Lanane (D)
Sen Melton (D)
Sen Mrvan (D)
Sen Neimeyer (R)
Sen Niezgodski (D)
Sen Randolph (D)
Sen Ruckelshaus (R) (replaced by Fady Qaddoura)
Sen Stoops (D) (retired, replaced by Shelli Yoder)
Sen Taylor (D)
Sen Tomes (R)
Sen Walker (R)
Sen Young (R)
These representatives voted against the bill when it came back from the Senate with the new language. Ask them to vote NO again.
Rep Cook (R)
Rep Frye (R)
Rep Lyness (R)
Rep McNamara (R)
Rep Pressel (R)
Rep VanNatter (R)
Rep Vermillion (R)
Rep Young (R)
And if you live in one of these districts, your district passed an operating or school safety referendum in 2016 or later. Contact your legislators and tell them to vote NO on HB 1072.
Anderson Community School Corporation, Madison County
Avon Community School Corporation, Hendricks County
Barr-Reeve Community Schools, Daviess County
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, Bartholomew County
Beech Grove City School Corporation, Marion County
Benton Community School Corporation, Benton County
Bremen Public Schools, Marshall County
Brown County Schools, Brown County
Cannelton City School Corporation, Perry County
Carmel Clay School Corporation, Hamilton County
Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation, Johnson County
Clinton Central School Corporation, Clinton County
Crown Point Community School Corporation, Lake County
Culver Community School Corporation, Marshall County
Duneland School Corporation, Porter County
Eminence Community School Corporation, Morgan County
Franklin Community School Corporation, Johnson County
Frontier School Corporation, White County
Gary Community School Corporation, Lake County
Goshen Community Schools, Elkhart County
Hamilton Community School Corporation, DeKalb & Steuben Counties
Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Hamilton County
Hanover Community School Corporation, Lake County
Indianapolis Public Schools, Marion County
Lake Central School Corporation, Lake County
Lake Station Community Schools, Lake County
Lanesville Community School Corporation, Harrison County
Monroe County Community School Corporation, Monroe County
MSD Boone Township, Porter County
MSD Decatur Township, Marion County
MSD of Southwest Allen County, Allen County
MSD of Warren Township, Marion County
MSD Washington Township, Marion County
MSD Wayne Township, Marion County
Noblesville School Corporation, Hamilton County
Noblesville Schools, Hamilton County
Northeast Dubois County School Corporation, Dubois County
Oregon Davis School Corporation, Starke County
Prairie Heights Community School Corporation, LaGrange County
River Forest Community School Corporation, Lake County
School City of Hammond, Lake County
School City of Hobart, Lake County
School City of Mishawaka, St. Joseph County
School Town of Munster, Lake County
School Town of Speedway, Marion County
Sheridan Community Schools, Hamilton County
Smith-Green Community School Corporation
South Bend Community School Corporation, St Joseph County
Southeast Dubois County School Corporation, Dubois County
Southern Wells Community Schools, Wells County
Tri-County School Corporation, White County
Union Township Community School Corporation, Porter County
Vigo County School Corporation, Vigo County
Wa-Nee Community School Corporation, Elkhart County
West Lafayette School Corporation, Tippecanoe County
Western Wayne Schools, Wayne County
Westfield Washington Schools, Hamilton County
Westview School Corporation, LaGrange County
Zionsville Community Schools, Boone County
–Jenny Robinson and Keri Miksza
P.S. Our state Indiana Coalition for Public Education has clipped some excellent testimony on HB 1072:
Dr. Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Superintendents, expresses his concerns about charters being prone to closing.
Representative Cherrish Pryor, House District 94, remembers how charters were sold as being able to do a better job with less money.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County (ICPE–Monroe County) advocates for all children to have high quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities.
We are a nonpartisan and nonprofit group of parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and other community members of Monroe County and surrounding areas.