As charter school group fails, next steps in question

As Indiana’s charter school association completes a shutdown, which could be done within days, questions about what sort of group might replace it remain unanswered.

In November, board members of the Indiana Association of Public Charter Schools laid off four of the five staff and began a process aimed at either finding a way to either infuse new funding by year’s end or shutting the group down.

The latter strategy won out when new financial backers couldn’t be found in time.

The organization, the state chapter of a national group, advocated for charters in the legislature and provided other services to member schools. Carey Dahncke, who is executive director of Christel House Academy charter schools, was one of the six board members who led the process. He said no solution was found to save the association and shutdown has only been slowed by paperwork.

The question is what happens once that process is complete.

“We’re in the final stages of shutting the whole thing down in its entirety,” he said. “Then there is lots and lots to talk about.”

Among the options going forward is creating a similar organization or parceling the work IAPCS did out to existing groups that have a broader school reform focus.

“We’re looking at groups like School Choice Indiana and the work they’re doing, trying to figure out where there is overlap with a general school reform groups, and thinking about what are unique to charter schools,” Dahncke said.

For example, he said, charter school principals may form a group that mimics the work of the broader Indiana Association of School Principals but with a charter school focus.

Dancke said the problem with IAPCS was costs that were too high, particularly for staff and building space, that drove the group into debt.

“It was a pretty hefty organization,” he said. “It was not sustainable.”

The organization’s failure is perhaps a surprise, coming at a time when charter schools are seeing unprecedented growth in Indiana. But Dahncke thinks that actually might have been part of the problem.

“In periods where the charter school movement was at risk, more people got behind the idea behind having the organization,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be much concern any more that the movement would disappear. Everyone is more concerned with growing their schools.”