Future of Schools

Carpe Diem charter school to add two new Indianapolis locations

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Carpe Diem Meridian.

A downtown charter school that uses “blended learning,” combining computer-based instruction and traditional classes says it’s ready to expand after two years.

The Indiana Charter School Board today approved the expansion of Arizona-based Carpe Diem to add schools on the city’s Northeast and Northwest sides to operate alongside its downtown campus on Meridian Street.

The charter board also withdrew an offer to BASIS, another Arizona-based for-profit, to open a charter school in Indianapolis after it learned no plans had yet been made to launch the school.

Carpe Diem was approved to open six charter schools back in 2011, but each still must be approved individually by the state board. At full capacity, the new schools would each serve 300 students in grades 6 through 12. The Northeast side location is slated to open first in 2015.

Emily Richardson, who serves as the director of legal affairs and policy for the Indiana Charter School Board, said she believed the organization was performing relatively well on Meridian Street — both academically and financially. Last year about 73 percent of the school’s students passed ISTEP, right on the state average. The school has yet to receive its first letter grade from the state.

The school serves about 175 students in grades 6-12, 60 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. It is still well short of its goal of 300 students, however.

“Overall, things are looking really good at Carpe Diem Meridian,” Richardson said.

Carpe Diem’s Robert Sommers, the network’s chief strategy officer, said the charter network hopes to exceed that performance at the two new Carpe Diem locations.

“We’re in the business of trying to run great schools, so creating more great schools is what we want to accomplish,” Sommers said.

Online-only schools are no longer a novelty, but blended schools say they are a hybrid that can be a better fit for some kids. Carpe Diem allows students to work at their own pace. They meet with teachers and peers for group work and other activities or when they need assistance.

Supporters of the approach say it’s more tailored to student needs than most online programs. But opponents say it suffers from the same down sides as other online programs because students may miss out on engagement and learning they can only get from a teacher.

The school struggled financially during its first year because it fell short of its enrollment expectations, but school officials said it got back on track over this past this school year. The network doesn’t anticipate enrollment to be a problem at the next two sites.

“The low enrollment was the result of an aggressive opening strategy,” according to the charter expansion request. “The proposal before the board for expansion corrects this aggressive opening strategy so a repeat of these problems is not likely.”

Carpe Diem’s expansion will take place within the Indianapolis Public Schools district, but exact locations are unknown. Sommers said a report identified the Northeast and Northwest sides as areas where educational improvement is needed.

“We’re closing in on options,” Sommers said. “We’re reaching out to the farther stretches of the city, (focusing) our schools on serving students of poverty and students with challenging academics.”

In the money

Here’s how Colorado schools would spend an extra $100 million from the state

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Hannah Moore, 8, shows off her moves during practice for an after school talent show that is part of the Scholars Unlimited After School program at Ashley Elementary school on March 10, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. Scholars Unlimited is an after school and summer program funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant, which is threatened to be cut entirely under the White House's budget cuts. The 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant served almost 20,000 students in Colorado between 2015 and 2016 and 76 percent of students showed academic improvement. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Legislators on the Joint Budget Committee unanimously decided this week to set aside $100 million to “buy down” the budget stabilization factor.

This number – $822 million in 2017-18 – is the amount by which Colorado underfunds its schools when compared to the constitutional requirement that spending on education increase every year based on student count and inflation. It’s more commonly known as the negative factor, though lawmakers are trying to get away from that term.

For several years now, lawmakers have held the negative factor steady, but this year, as Colorado has more money to spend than it has had in a long time, Gov. John Hickenlooper wanted to make a dent in it and requested the $100 million reduction. To be clear, a $100 million reduction in the negative factor is $100 million more that the state would send to districts. Technically, this number will be finalized in a separate piece of legislation, the School Finance Bill, which is coming any day now.

But state Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee, wanted to give some reassurance to educators that the money will be there in the budget. 

“It would send a message to our K-12 community that we are not spending that money and have set it aside,” she said.

And educators have been clamoring to hear that message. The Colorado School Finance Project has been running a social media campaign for the $100 million buydown using the hashtags #k12needsco and #kidsmattertoo.

The non-profit asked school superintendents around the state to say what they would do with the extra money, which translates to an additional $114 on average for each enrolled student, compared to holding the budget stabilization factor steady. The answers are identified by region, but not by district.

Here’s a small sample of the responses:

You can read all of them here.

The Joint Budget Committee has set total program spending on education at $7.75 billion before the negative factor is applied, up from $7.45 billion this year, a 4 percent increase. Of total program spending, the state will pay $4.4 billion, with the rest coming from local property taxes. This doesn’t include voter-approved tax increases known as mill levy overrides.

That translates to average per-pupil spending of $7,959, compared to $7,662 this year. A budget stabilization factor of $722 million would yield an average per-pupil amount closer to $8,074. 

The smaller budget stabilization factor is significant beyond just one budget year because state law says that this number shouldn’t get larger from one year to the next. However, Colorado superintendents are also pushing for a tax increase and change to the distribution of school money. It will take more than an additional $100 million spread among 870,000 students to address all the needs they identify in their responses to the Colorado School Finance Project.

Hickenlooper had also requested an additional $200 million for the state education fund, with the intention that that money be used to offset costs to districts from proposed changes to the public pension system and expected reductions in property tax revenue in rural communities.

The Joint Budget Committee instead voted to set aside $225 million to deal with costs associated with fixing the Public Employees Retirement Association’s unfunded liability – but in the general fund rather than the state education fund and not specifically to help schools, where retirement costs account for a big chunk of the personnel budget.

The committee also agreed to set aside $30 million to help small rural districts with low tax bases and was supportive of setting aside $10 million to address rural teacher shortages, though some of the details are still being worked out.

March for Our Lives

Memphis students say Saturday protest is not just about school shootings. It’s about all gun violence.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A student at Columbine High School holds a sign during a protest of gun violence, on March 14, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado.

Students marching Saturday in Memphis against gun violence say they are not only protesting the shootings that killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. They also are speaking out against shootings that happen daily in their own city.

Seventeen-year-old John Chatman says he fears school shootings, but he especially fears the common gun violence in his neighborhood of South Memphis. He has lost close friends to shootings.

“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Chatman said. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis on the daily.”

Memphis had 200 homicides in 2017, down from 228 the previous year, the deadliest year recorded in the city in two decades.

Chatman is one of hundreds of Memphians expected to participate in this weekend’s March for Our Lives event as part of a nationwide protest sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The largest march will be in Washington, D.C., where up to a half million protesters are expected, but smaller demonstrations are planned in cities and towns across the nation. In Tennessee, other marches are slated for Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Clarksville, Cookeville, and Johnson City.

The Memphis march will start at 10 a.m. at Claiborne Temple, and Savanah Thompson will be there. One of more than a dozen student organizers, she worries that news about people getting shot has become commonplace.

“Being in Memphis, you get used to hearing about gun violence,” said Thompson, a freshman at White Station High School. “This affects the youth in our city. … We never want a school shooting to happen in Memphis or anywhere ever again.”

Alyssa Kieren, a student leader at Collierville High School, hopes the march fosters a sense of unity.

“We’re trying to stress that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Kieren said. “We have to acknowledge there is a problem and we have to come up with solutions. … The thing we’re upset about is that children are dying in our schools, and they’re dying in our city.”