By Andrew Pillow
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has awarded Indiana around $60 million in federal funds to expand charter schools. The funds will be dispersed over the next five years. The award was part of a larger grant package that included eight additional states. The grant will go towards replicating, expanding, planning and managing charter schools.
This award is an awesome development for school choice in Indiana. I’m sure charter school authorizers and lawmakers are already salivating at the mouth, thinking about how they will use the money. However, Indiana should prioritize using this money to expand access to charter schools as opposed to expanding the number of charter schools in general.
At first glance, expanding the number of charter schools and expanding access to charter schools probably sounds like the same thing, but that is not necessarily the case. There are some parts of Indiana where charter school options are limited that can probably benefit from more schools. But here in Indianapolis, charter schools are ubiquitous. There are so many charter schools that sometimes even good ones have trouble meeting their enrollment goals.
So, Indianapolis doesn’t need a whole lot more charter schools. Indianapolis needs increased access to the charter schools that it has.
One of the main access barriers to high-quality local charters is transportation. A few well-known charter schools don’t provide busing. Some schools don’t offer transportation due to the nature of their school model. However, many charters concede they don’t provide transportation simply because it is expensive and they don’t get tax dollars for it like public schools do. One of the main rallying cries behind school choice is the idea that “where you live shouldn’t determine the quality of education you receive”. If a student can’t attend a high-quality school due to lack of transportation, then where they live is still dictating what kind of education they get. So that is something that should be considered.
The enrollment process in the past has been another barrier for families trying to attend charter schools. It remains unknown how the advent of Enroll Indy will mitigate this problem but in the past, different application types and deadlines have stopped families from attending a high-quality charter. If Enroll Indy is unable to fix that problem Indiana should definitely use a portion of the money to help manage charter school enrollment.
There some places that aren’t already saturated with schools where using this award to proliferate charter schools makes sense, but in Indianapolis, we have enough schools. It’s the schools that don’t have enough students. Because this city is one of the flagship models for school choice, officials should concentrate on making sure families are really able to take advantage of the offers that are available.