School Choice

In surprise move, Indiana's charter school association could close

The Indiana Association of Public Charter Schools recently praised a $2 million donation to Herron, an Indianapolis charter high school.

In a move that has stunned charter school advocates, the Indiana Association of Public Charter Schools will shut down at the end of the year unless emergency funds can be found to save it, one of it’s board members confirmed today.

The organization, the state chapter of a national group, advocates for charter schools in the legislature and provides other services to member schools. If the organization shuts down it could leave charter schools without a direct lobbying voice or a resource for schools who need start up assistance or other basic services.

Six of the organization’s nine board members have resigned and the staff has been reduced from four to one. One of the remaining board members, Carey Dahncke, said he is hopeful the group can be reborn.

“The association has failed to hit some of its targets,” said Dahncke, who is executive director of Christel House Academy charter schools. “There is great concern about the ability to meet its debts.”

The news came as a shock to Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and a longtime charter school supporter.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I would certainly encourage the schools to get together, at least on an informal basis, to see how they can remain in touch with each other and represent their interests.”

Russ Simnick, the former executive director, left the group earlier this year for another job and was replaced on an interim basis by Kevin Davis, the co-founder of Options charter schools.

A wide array of organizations lobby lawmakers on behalf of education groups such as principals, private schools, urban schools and more. Without their association, charters would one of the very few school groups without active lobbying, Redelman said. Other charter-supporting groups, such as the chamber and School Choice Indiana, can help but that’s not ideal, he said.

“I would hope this will be a short-lived situation,” he said. “They may not emerge at the same level but I think something will emerge. They need that.”

The news will be shared with members at an annual charter school conference in Indianapolis next week. Among the services the group offers are discounts with vendors, network, legal aid, training and start up assistance.

“The organization overextended itself in hopes of landing the next grant,” Dahncke said. “That catches up with you after awhile.”

Dahncke said the association is seeking a foundation grant or individual donations to keep the organization afloat while it is reorganized.

“There needs to be a pretty clear plan to create a sustainable organization,” he said. “Moving forward, there will have to be some funders come in to support it.”

Nina Rees, president and CEO of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said she hoped the Indiana chapter would continue.

“The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association has been very effective at increasing opportunities for Indiana’s children, most recently helping improve state law to support the expansion and growth of high-quality charters,” she said. “We are disappointed to hear of their current funding struggles, but hopeful they will find a sufficient solution to continue their work on behalf of Indiana’s families.”

Tough talk

State ed officials rip into ‘insulting’ SUNY charter proposal and ‘outrageous’ Success Academy chair

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa

The state’s top two education officials did not pull punches at a panel Wednesday that touched on everything from last weekend’s racist violence in Charlottesville to recent charter school debates.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia took an uncharacteristically combative position against SUNY’s proposal to let some charter schools certify their own teachers — arguing it would denigrate the teaching profession and is not in the best interest of children.

“I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that,” Elia said about the proposal, which would require 30 hours of classroom instruction for prospective teachers. “Think about what you would do. Would you put your children there?”

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa denounced Success Academy’s board chair, Daniel Loeb, whose racially inflammatory comment about state Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins drew headlines, and pointedly referred to New York City officials’ reluctance to talk about school segregation.

Wednesday’s conversation was sprawling, but its discussion of race and education had a particular urgency against the national backdrop of Charlottesville — and the president’s reluctance to denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists in its aftermath.

The following are some of the most charged moments of the panel, held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and hosted by City & State:

Segregation — “you’ve got to name it”

In response to a question about New York City’s diversity plan, which was widely criticized for not using the word “segregation,” Rosa suggested the city should have gone further.

“We committed to, as a department and as a Board of Regents, [the] notion of naming it,” Rosa said, referring to the state’s draft integration statement, which referred to New York schools as the most segregated in the country. “You’ve got to name it.”

Elia chimed in too, tying integration to the recent events in Charlottesville.

“I would say the last six days have pointed out to all of us that, clearly, this is something that must be on the agenda,” Elia said.

Dan Loeb — “absolutely outrageous”

Loeb ignited a firestorm over the past week with a Facebook post that said people like Stewart-Cousins, an African-American New York State Senator he called loyal to unions, have caused “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” — an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan. (He has since taken down the post and apologized.)

Rosa strongly condemned the comments in the same breath as she denounced the violence in Charlottesville, and said children of color at Success Academy would be “better served” without Loeb leading the board.

“I am outraged on every single level,” she said. “Comparing the level of commitment of an African-American woman that has given her time and her commitment and dedication, to compare her to the KKK. That is so absolutely outrageous.”

Elia seemed to pick up on another part of Loeb’s statement, which referred to “union thugs and bosses.”

“For anyone to think that we can be called thugs,” Elia said. “People [do] not realize the importance of having a quality teacher in front of every child.”

SUNY proposal — “insulting”

SUNY Charter Schools Institute released a proposal in July that would allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers. The certification would require at least 30 hours of classroom instruction and 100 hours of teaching experience under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

But as the requirements currently stand, both Elia — who compared the training to that of fast food workers — and Rosa took aim.

“No other profession, not the lawyers who are sitting in that SUNY Institute, would accept that in their own field. So if you don’t accept it for your very own child, and you don’t accept it for your very own profession, then you know what? Don’t compromise my profession. I think it’s insulting,” Rosa said.

Joseph Belluck, the head of SUNY’s charter school committee, said earlier this month that the committee is considering revising those requirements before the draft comes to the board for a vote. But he fired back after Rosa and Elia bashed the proposal on Wednesday.

“Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa are proponents of the status quo,” Belluck said in an emailed statement. They have “no substantive comments on our proposal — just slinging arrows. Today, they even denigrated the thousands of fast food workers who they evidently hold in low esteem.”

on the record

Eva Moskowitz sends letter calling Success board chair’s comments ‘indefensible’ — but also defending his record

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy

In response to widespread criticism of a racial comment made by Success Academy’s chairman, the leader of the charter network, Eva Moskowitz, sent a letter Tuesday to parents, teachers and staff.

In the letter, Moskowitz used strong language to condemn Daniel Loeb’s comments. On Facebook last week, Loeb wrote that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an African-American state senator whom he called loyal to unions, does “more damage to people of color than anyone who ever donned a hood” — an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Loeb later apologized and deleted the comment.

In today’s letter, Moskowitz called the comments “indefensible,” “insensitive” and “hurtful,” a more aggressive rebuke than her previous statement.

Yet she also defended Loeb’s track record in the letter, pointing out his commitment to Success and various social causes. A spokeswoman for Success Academy confirmed that Loeb remains the board’s chairman.

The racist violence that ensued this past weekend in Charlottesville put an even more damaging spin on his comments. At a rally Monday to support Stewart-Cousins, the Senate’s minority leader, she made the connection between her situation and the events in Charlottesville.

“That is extremely hurtful given the legacy, certainly, of people of color — my ancestors,” said Stewart-Cousins. “We all got a chance to see it in Charlottesville, what that represents.”

Moskowitz made a veiled reference to the weekend’s events in the letter, saying that engaging students is “all the more important in the face of the broader trauma and crisis we are facing as a country.”

Here is the full text of the letter: