Indiana Democrats call for summer study of virtual schools

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The letter, addressed to House Speaker Brian Bosma, was signed by State Rep. Tonya Pfaff and Reps. Vernon G. Smith, Edward DeLaney and Sheila Klinker; all four are Democrats who serve on the House Education Committee during legislative session.

“Recent scandals surrounding both Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy highlight the need for swift action from the General Assembly to increase oversight and accountability in Indiana’s virtual charter program,” the letter states.

Recently-passed legislation, HEA 1400, urged the Legislative Council to assign the topic to study committee, but that did not happen. The legislation received broad bipartisan support, passing the House by a vote of 93-0 and Senate by a vote of 48-0, according to the letter.

The four legislators “urge the Legislative Council to reconsider.”

“We implore the Legislative Council to utilize the 2019 interim wisely and assign this topic to the appropriate committee so the General Assembly can be well prepared for the 2020 Legislative Session,” the letter states. “With the Interim Study Committee on Education scheduled to meet Aug. 22, we request that the topic above be added to the agenda.”

The letter also invites Republican members of the House Committee on Education “to join us in our request and have copied Chairman [Bob] Behning on this letter to that end.”

Pfaff believes it’s important for the appropriate committee to study the issues surrounding virtual charter schools because “they have not been accountable to the same standards and rules” as traditional public schools.

She did differentiate between virtual charter schools and those virtual schools that are part of public school districts, including the new Vigo Virtual Success Academy; those that are part of public school districts fall under the same accountability requirements as traditional brick-and-mortar public schools, she said.

Pfaff said that as a Vigo County public school teacher, she supports the new VCSC virtual school because it must meet the same accountability requirements as other VCSC schools.

Virtual charters, on the other hand, must have an authorizer and be accountable to that authorizer under Indiana law; the state has less of a role with charter schools.

Some Indiana virtual charters have come under fire for inflated enrollment, over-payment of state tuition support dollars and failure to educate children.

Behning, contacted Wednesday evening, believed it would be “very difficult” to add another assignment to the interim study committee on education. “If we do, we have to add a lot more meetings to the calendar because the Legislative Council did add a few other items” to what was previously assigned.

Also, legislation was passed last session, Senate Bill 567, that calls for more accountability for virtual charter schools, he said. “We have taken action and we have put more accountability in place for those charters.” He believes more time is needed to determine the impact of those changes.

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