Dec 8, 2023 - News

Indianapolis grants "excellent" charter school networks 15-year terms

Illustration of a golden apple on a stack of books.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Eleven schools within four high-performing Indianapolis charter school networks have been granted 15-year charters — a first for schools authorized by the city.

Driving the news: The city's Office of Education Innovation held renewal hearings this week for schools with charters expiring at the end of the current academic year and granted a new "enduring excellence" distinction to four of those schools and seven others in the same networks.

What's happening: A new state law extended the maximum length of a charter term from seven years to 15.

  • Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican and chair of the House education committee, said it would help schools obtain better financial terms.

Separately, OEI is piloting a consolidated renewal process so all schools within one network can be on the same renewal cycle.

  • Each school maintains its own charter and OEI will continue to do annual reviews of each school it authorizes, Patrick McAlister, director of OEI, told Axios.

How it works: To be considered for the distinction from OEI, schools must be applying for a renewal and be, on average, meeting performance standards in the four areas that the office evaluates on renewal applications — academics, fiscal health, governance and learning conditions.

  • OEI won't grant an initial charter for 15 years.

Reality check: McAlister said the longer charter terms don't mean there will be less accountability or oversight on the schools.

  • The city still has the ability to amend charter terms — up to and including revocation of a charter — if performance lags.

Here are the charter networks that received the new distinction and 15-year charters:

🏛️ Herron Classical Schools opened its first school, Herron High School, in 2006.

  • It's long been one of the city's highest-performing high schools and most sought-after charter schools.
  • Herron-Riverside High School opened in 2017 and Herron Preparatory Academy — the network's first K-8 school — in 2021.
  • Despite its newness, McAlister said Herron Prep was included in the consolidated renewal process and granted a 15-year early renewal because of the trust this network has built with the city.

🔬 Purdue Polytechnic High Schools' Englewood and Broad Ripple campuses have a focus on STEM education.

  • Englewood is the network's flagship campus, having opened in 2017.
  • Broad Ripple followed in 2019.

📚 Paramount Schools of Excellence runs some of the city's highest-performing K-8 schools with campuses in Brookside, Englewood and Cottage Home.

ğŸŽ“ Goodwill Education Initiatives operates the Excel Centers, charter schools designed for adults working toward a high school diploma.

Zoom out: In addition to the city, seven other charter authorizers govern schools across the state and can also grant 15-year charters now.

  • At the request of Christel House Academy, the Indiana Charter School Board recently amended the charters for the network's three campuses, extending their term from seven years to 15 years.
  • Emily Masengale, CEO of the network, said they are trying to buy the building they've been renting space in for its West campus and a 15-year charter would give them better financing options.

What they're saying: "I've always been an advocate of longer charter terms because a short charter term often causes a charter to have more difficulty obtaining financing," said James Betley, executive director of the state charter board. "From our perspective, since we monitor schools on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis, anytime there is an issue … we'll bring it up, regardless of the charter term."

  • "If we need to bring a school in for a corrective plan or closure prior to renewal, we do that."

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