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IPS to share $27.5M of referendum funds with innovation schools

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Indianapolis Public Schools will share $27.5 million in referendum funds with the district’s network of independent charter schools, known as innovation schools. The school board voted 5-1 in favor of the proposal during a meeting Nov. 18.

The money comes from a property tax referendum voters approved in 2018, which gives IPS about $220 million in operating funds over eight years and about $50 million for capital building improvements.

Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district didn’t include charter partners in its calculations for the operating funds because those schools don’t receive local property tax funding. Some innovation schools have had access to the capital money but not the operating money, which supports things such as teacher salaries.

Innovation school leaders and families with children in those schools have been especially vocal in recent months about sharing operating funds. State lawmakers opened the door last year with a law that allows districts to share property tax referendum money, and IPS is the first district in the state to do it.

Twenty-five innovation charter schools will get $500 per in-district student each year until 2026. That amounts to about $5 million per year but is still less than the $1,800 traditional IPS schools get per student.

Board member Taria Slack was the lone no vote. Venita Moore abstained from the vote over concerns about the district’s fiscal future, which is part of the reason for the gap in per-student funding.

“There’s certainly a tension there that we’re working to manage,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the district will “strongly encourage” innovation schools to give teachers a 3% raise, which would match the district’s recent teacher pay increase. (Charter school teachers are not part of the district’s collective bargaining agreement.)

Schools will also have to share data on how they use the shared funding and how they use money from the state’s Charter School Grant, which is currently $1,000 per student.

The move to share referendum funds with innovation schools is polarizing, split mostly along the line of those who support the district’s expansive school choice network and those who prefer the more traditional approach to public education.

“Taxpayers aren’t aware that their tax money is going to schools they have zero say in,” the group IPS Community Coalition, which has been critical of the innovation school model, posted to Facebook ahead of the vote.

Innovation schools are operated by outside charter or nonprofit partners and have access to district buildings and services. In exchange, IPS gets credit for those schools’ enrollment numbers and other performance data.

There may be legal questions to address down the road after state Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said IPS could break the law by sharing referendum funds with the charter schools. The law passed in 2020 says districts are required to say if the referendum funding would be shared with charter schools and how much funding would be distributed, but those details weren’t part of the district’s referendum in 2018.

State officials have said the law was intended to apply only to the future.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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