money money money

Mind Trust has big plans for Indianapolis schools and now it needs big money

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis could get an influx of new charter and innovation schools, enrolling as many as 15,000 more students in the next seven years.

At least that’s the vision outlined by David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust. The Indianapolis-based nonprofit aims to dramatically expand the number of what it considers “high-quality” schools in the city in coming years. To get there, the organization plans to help lure top education talent from Indianapolis and around the country to lead schools in the city. It plans to support new charter schools and to help charter school networks that are hoping to expand.

The group’s ambitions are big — to double the number of students within Indianapolis Public Schools boundaries who attend schools that are highly rated by the state, earning an A or B grade on the state’s grading system.

“I want every kid in our community to have access to a great school,” Harris said. “We think there’s a moral obligation to see that happen, and if we care about the health and vitality of the city, it’s important that that happen.”

The idea comes as education leaders are increasingly concerned that the education market is saturated in Indianapolis — with new charter schools struggling to fill seats. But Harris said he still sees room for more high-quality schools in underserved areas of the city.

To bring his vision to life, Harris said the Mind Trust is looking to raise $32 million over the next three years to pay for the first half of the plan. It launched its campaign tonight, but the nonprofit has already raised about $17 million, including donations from national funders such as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

That funding will help launch new charter schools and innovation schools, which are considered part of IPS but are managed independently and are not unionized. In the past two years, IPS has restarted three failing neighborhood schools as innovation schools, in addition to converting successful schools and incorporating charter schools into the innovation network.

The Mind Trust has already given grants to several innovation schools, charter leaders and charter networks. But Harris said the campaign aims to increase funding dedicated to starting and supporting new schools.

The group does not have a target for the number of new or restarted schools it will fund, but it aims to create seats for about 15,000 more students in high-quality schools.

The fundraising campaign will also support community engagement work, including by giving schools money to hire staff to help parents better advocate for their children’s needs. Money will also go to programs designed to recruit and train principals, such as the new partnership with Relay Graduate School of Education.

“You are not going to have great schools, if you don’t have great school leaders,” Harris said. “We want to make sure that we continue to attract the caliber of talent that we have and we need.”

maybe next year

Senate Republicans kill bill that would have taken broad look at public education in Colorado

Students at Vista PEAK Exploratory in Aurora work on a math assignment. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee spiked a bill Wednesday that was meant to spark a broad conversation about the future of Colorado’s public schools.

Some lawmakers hoped House Bill 1287 would help sell voters on raising taxes to better fund the state’s schools. But the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee voted 3-2 along party lines to kill the legislation, which would have created a series of committees to examine the state’s education laws and make recommendations for changing them.

Republicans objected to the bill because they didn’t want to create more bureaucracy, and they thought it was a ploy to raise taxes.

The bill’s demise was a defeat for a group of the state’s most authoritative lawmakers on education policy. It was one of the top legislative priorities for state Reps. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, and Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican. Both serve of the state’s budget committee and rallied lawmakers around the bill.

Rankin called the bill the most important of his legislative career.

“I’m bitterly disappointed, although it was expected,” he said. “I certainly don’t intend to give up. We’ve worked for over three years to move this idea forward. We thought we built a bipartisan coalition that was interested and wanted to help. We thought we were making really good progress.”

Hamner also expressed dismay over the bill’s death.

“To die quietly like that in Senate was really, really surprising and disappointing,” Hamner said. “Do we still have a need to establish a vision for the future of our kids? Yes. Apparently we’re going to have to do that without our Senate majority.”

Last-minute amendments brought by state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, to address Senate GOP leadership’s concerns could not save the bill.

Supporters of the bill said the legislature needed to step in to help rethink Colorado’s education landscape holistically, not with piecemeal legislation. The state’s laws are outdated and clash with 21st century expectations, they said at Wednesday’s hearing.

“Our current collection of policies and laws have failed to keep pace with changes in expectations of our education system,” said Mark Sass, a Broomfield high school teacher and state director of a teacher fellowship program. “We need a deliberate and collaborative conversation in our state, as to our vision of education.”

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he supported the goal of the bill. His name was listed as a sponsor when the bill was first introduced. But he said he eventually concluded the bill was the wrong approach.

“I’m not sure this is the solution to get us there,” he said. “It’s time for us to take a bottom up approach. I get nervous about standing up and staffing and financing another government program.”

After the committee hearing, Sass said Republican lawmakers failed to realize their unique role in Colorado shaping statewide education policy. The state’s constitution gives no authority to the governor, the education commissioner or the State Board of Education to create a strategic plan.

“We need someone to drive this conversation,” he said. “If the legislature won’t, who will?”

Priola said in an interview that he had hoped for more time to lobby Senate leadership and members of the committee. Instead, he said he’d try again next year.

“We live in a state with 178 school districts and thousands of schools,” he said. “There can’t be one way of doing things, but there also can’t be 1,000. There has to be some commonality on what we’re doing and what direction we’re heading.”

Rankin was less committed in trying again next year.

“I want to think about,” he said. “I don’t think this elected, term-limited legislature with the background they come from can develop the kind of leadership needed for this movement.”

The death of House Bill 1287 puts another bipartisan piece of legislation on shaky ground.

House Bill 1340, sponsored by state Reps. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, and Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, would create a committee of lawmakers to study and make changes to the way Colorado funds its schools.

The state House of Representatives was expected to hold its final vote on that bill Wednesday morning. But Democratic leadership pushed the vote by a day.

Some Democrats in the House saw the two bills as a package, while Republicans in the Senate saw them as competing. With partisan rancor flaring in the waning days of the session, House Democrats could return the favor and kill the finance study bill.

Rankin, the House Republican, said he hoped his chamber’s leadership would let the finance study bill move forward. He introduced a similar bill two years ago but was unable to get the bill through the legislative process.

“I think it’s a good idea to take a hard look at school finance. Maybe we can get some dialogue going,” he said, adding that he believes lawmakers still need to think about a strategic plan for its schools.

Hamner, the House Democrat, said she also supported the finance study.

“I think their bill will be just fine,” she said. “Unless the Senate decides to kill it in State Affairs.”

charter law 2.0

Sweeping charter school bill passes Tennessee legislature

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Students learn at Memphis Delta Preparatory, one of more than 100 charter schools in Tennessee.

Tennessee is close to overhauling the way it oversees charter schools.

The state Senate voted 25-1 on Wednesday to approve the so-called High Quality Charter Act, which now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature. The proposal overwhelmingly passed the House last week.

The bill would replace Tennessee’s 2002 charter school law.

“This law will ensure Tennessee authorizes high-quality charter schools for years to come,” said Brian Kelsey, the Germantown Republican who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

The measure was developed by the State Department of Education in an effort to address the often rocky relationships between Tennessee’s 105 charter schools and the districts that oversee them. The overhaul clarifies rules on everything from applications to closure and includes measures that charter and local district leaders have fought for — and against.

Local districts will be able to charge an authorizer fee to cover the cost of charter oversight — something that school systems have sought since the first charter schools opened in the state in 2003.

The bill also establishes a fund of up $6 million for facilities. That’s a boon to charter organizations that say they are too cash-strapped to pay rent and maintain their school buildings.

Maya Bugg, the CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center, said she was most excited about the facilities fund.

“It’s really an equity issue,” she said. “You have charter schools serving a majority of students of color, low-income, and for them to have this gap in funding, it takes dollars away from those students.”

The proposal had widespread support from the charter sector and from officials with Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest authorizer of charter schools, which has been sorting out many of the issues addressed in the revisions.

“Future school board decisions on whether to authorize a charter school will be based on best practices, and charter schools that fail to meet performance standards will be shut down,” Kelsey said. “I am glad that the governor reached agreement between local school districts and charter school operators over how much charter schools should pay for an administration fee.”