Who Is In Charge

After unsuccessful first attempt, private voucher schools use new Indiana law to win reprieve from A-F consequences

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The Indiana State Board of Education approved the voucher waiver requests at its June meeting.

Four private schools with repeated years of D and F grades from the state will get to accept new voucher students next fall.

The Indiana State Board of Education today approved Central Christian Academy, Turning Point School, Lutheran South Unity School and Trinity Lutheran School’s requests for waivers after a failed vote last month would have denied them.

The requests take advantage of a new Indiana law passed in April that allows the state board to consider such waivers for private schools that can still show their students have improved academically.

Today, six board members voted in favor of the waivers. Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager were still opposed. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who also voted no last month, was out sick.

Before lawmakers passed House Bill 1384 earlier this year, schools with three consecutive years of Ds or Fs would have been barred from accepting new voucher students until their grades were a “C” or better for two years. In Trinity Lutheran’s case, where a school has three consecutive Fs, they need three years of better grades. The four schools have had just one year so far, and some of that change could be due, in part, to the fact that the state changed its A-F grading system in 2016 to reward test score improvement as well as performance.

The Indiana State Teachers Association spoke out against the waivers, arguing they undermine the state’s accountability system and put some schools above others.

“We feel that this is not good policy, to give schools a pass,” said John O’Neal, an ISTA lobbyist. “It seems like we have a separate accountability system for voucher schools as for (public) schools.”

Like last month, board members Hendry and Yager said today that one year of better grades wasn’t enough to ensure the schools could remain on track.

“I believe very strongly in choice,” Hendry said. “However, I feel there is a yin and yang between choice and accountability, and in this matter, I fall very slightly in favor of accountability.”

But board member Vince Bertram was adamant that the schools should get the waivers because parents had specifically chosen them, saying that’s the “most compelling issue” and a signal of the schools’ quality.

The state should take “any opportunity we have to hold schools accountable, but not restrict choice,” he said.

School leaders, students and parents spoke passionately about their schools and how using vouchers for private school tuition changed their lives.

“We do not turn away students with learning differences or ones who can’t afford us or ones who don’t share our religious tradition,” said David Sexauer, head of schools at Central Christian in Indianapolis. “Granting us this waiver will better enable us to serve families.”

The state board also voted to:

  • Approve two transition-to-teaching options for people who want to become teachers but not go through traditional college programs. Teachers of Tomorrow and the American College of Education Teacher Preparation both made proposals to the board about their online teacher certification programs, which would end with participants earning an Indiana teaching license.
  • Allow three private religious schools to begin the process to become accredited. Because of a new law passed this year, those schools could accept vouchers now that they’ve started the process, rather than after they finish it.

The state board next meets July 12 in Indianapolis.




Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”