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Charter and innovation school leaders ask IPS for equitable referendum funding

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis charter and innovation school leaders are requesting that Indianapolis Public Schools include independent schools in its 2023 referendum request to community taxpayers.

School leaders representing 52 Indianapolis public charter and innovation schools have signed a letter calling for IPS to equitably share referendum funding with all public school students who live in the district.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independent of traditional school district policies and have the flexibility to innovate in the way they educate students while still being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Innovation Network Schools are public schools enabled by Indiana state laws that allow school districts to convert, open new, or restart existing schools as new, autonomous schools with their own nonprofit boards.

Public charter and innovation schools in Indiana must be open to any student who resides in the state and may not establish admission policies or limit student admissions in any manner in which a public school is not permitted to establish admission policies or limit student admissions. In Indianapolis, the majority of students who attend charter and innovation schools are students of color and qualify for free or reduced lunch.

According to the leaders, the current funding gap for Indianapolis charter schools is up to $7,000+ per student and will grow to over $10,000 per student with this new referendum as it is currently proposed. This affects more than 23,000 Indianapolis students who attend independent charter or innovation network schools.

In a press conference at Invent Learning Hub, Executive Director Alechia Ostler opens up by saying she’s spent 16 years in IPS as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. During those years, they’ve spent countless hours in meetings discussing the topic of equity and education.

“School choice in our city has grown, because family’s want options that meet the needs of our students. As a community, we should be united and work together to eliminate the disparities we see in our schools. I ask that we share to be fair,” Ostler said.

Other speakers included:

  • Eddie Rangel, the executive director of Adelante Schools.
  • Mariama Shaheed, the founder and Head of School at Global Preparatory Academy
  • Sarah Weimer, the CEO and executive director of Christel House Indianapolis, a parent, a teacher.
  • Invent Learning Hub eighth grader, Hayden Wright.

“I have learned to think outside the box more so using resources. Limited resources actually,” Wright said. “I’m a firm believer in equality and I feel the referendum should be shared with every school, because it’s working to help each and every student. It shouldn’t be a certain organization gets a certain amount of money. We’re all teaching kids the same way. I deserve to be educated the same as an IPS boundary student.”


Last year, the district agreed to share funds from its 2018 referendum with innovation network schools, which would receive $500 per student within IPS. Unfortunately, that amount was far less than the $1,800 per year students in district-run schools received. Students attending independent public charter schools received nothing.

The funding gap for innovation and charter students will become even more dire under the district’s latest referendum proposal, which is part of a recently finalized plan designed to create more opportunity and equity.

Indianapolis Public Schools district leaders

“I want to address some questions we’ve received about whether the district funding referendums proposed for the 2023 ballot will include funding for charter schools not affiliated with IPS.

At this point, the referendum language will not include funds for charter schools that are not a part of IPS, and I want to be clear about why.

When I introduced the Rebuilding Stronger plan, I called it “Our Commitment to All Students.” When I make a commitment, I mean it. Rebuilding Stronger is my promise to the community that if we work together and make tough sacrifices, if we exercise discipline and make hard choices based on our values, we will make excellent offerings and great schools accessible to every student in IPS. I promised to be a responsible fiscal steward, and transparent and accountable every step of the way. That’s why we spent more than a year in public meetings, sharing data, talking through hard questions, reviewing surveys, and more to create the plan.

These are not promises that I, or the IPS Board of School Commissioners, make lightly. So, when we implement Rebuilding Stronger, we need to live up to all of our commitments. And what concerns me is that the proposal to include charters not affiliated with IPS provides no mechanism for the IPS administration or our publicly elected Board of School Commissioners to oversee those funds — which amounts to spending without accountability.

We will only go to our taxpayers for funds if we can promise to be accountable for how they’re spent. We won’t ask if we can’t make that promise, as is the case here.

Here’s what we are doing: In addition to the current over $19M in annual operational support that IPS Innovation Network charter schools receive from the district’s budget, we are including all of our Innovation Network charter schools in our 2023 referendum request. With our community’s approval, all schools in our IPS family will receive the benefit of the referendum to support increased offerings for students and a continued commitment to competitive compensation. This setup is important so that we can impact as many students and staff as possible — while still being able to share publicly where dollars are going through our quarterly finance updates. This is our commitment. This is how we Rebuild Stronger.”

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson