Who Is In Charge

McCormick wants more regulation of charter and voucher-funded schools. Ritz has some advice: ‘Good luck.’

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Three state superintendents were on the panel. From left to right: Jennifer McCormick, Suellen Reed and Glenda Ritz.

In her race for state superintendent, Jennifer McCormick raked in donations from school choice advocates. But at a forum Saturday, she seemed at home in a room packed with critics of vouchers and charter schools.

At an event hosted by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, which advocates for public schools, McCormick called for more accountability and transparency for charter schools and private schools that receive vouchers.

McCormick, who is a Republican, joined two former state superintendents. The panel featured Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who is beloved by many teachers and union supporters but lost her re-election bid to McCormick in 2016. The final panelist, Republican Suellen Reed, led the Indiana Department of Education for 16 years.

The three education leaders raised concerns about private school vouchers and charter schools, a theme that drew applause from the audience.

McCormick appears to accept that charter schools and voucher funding for private schools are here to stay in Indiana. In a school choice system, however, all schools that receive public funds should have the same scrutiny, she said.

“If we are going to go choice,” she said, “shouldn’t it be quality choice? Whether it’s a traditional public or a charter or a voucher — should that not be a quality choice?”

Instead of creating a completely free market, the state should make sure that schools are meeting baseline expectations, she said. As it stands, some schools are not meeting minimum expectations.

“It shouldn’t be a free for all,” McCormick said.

McCormick’s position drew a weary half smile from Ritz, who frequently butted heads with politicians who advocate for school choice. “Good luck,” she said.

“It is very frustrating to see what has happened with a lot of those dollars that has come through,” Ritz continued. “We know they are not being used appropriately.”

In some ways, the competition from school choice has made traditional public schools better, Reed said.

“The problem is, there’s only so much money go around” for schools, she said. “As the amount of money has diminished, for whatever purpose, it makes it harder to get things done that absolutely have to be done.”

There was wide support from the panelists for fighting both to get more school funding and to prevent schools from losing federal funding they rely on, such as the aid schools receive to help educate poor children.

“We will never have enough. I mean, that’s the bottom line, but we have got to continue to fight for what we can get,” McCormick said. “We are trying to scrape and save every penny and fight for what we can get.”

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”