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Smith leading lawmakers through process of holding virtual charters accountable

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INDIANAPOLIS – Thanks to the efforts of State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary), lawmakers finally appear ready to take positive steps toward fixing the unregulated mess that is Indiana’s virtual charter school industry.

House members accepted three amendments offered by Smith to House Bill 1172, legislation that asks the Indiana State Board of Education to adopt rules regarding virtual education programs run by school corporations. The call for reforms came after a series of investigative reports detailed concerns about low performances and questionable business practices. Representatives passed House Bill 1172 today, moving the measure to the Indiana Senate for consideration.

“What we are talking about here is the Wild West of education: a rapidly expanding mess that is almost completely unregulated and without accountability,” Smith said. “When the governor of Indiana says something must be done about putting virtual charters under control and the Board of Education expresses concerns about the academic performance of virtual charters, then it is imperative that we do something.”

Smith’s reforms:

  • Prohibit school corporations that operate virtual education programs of virtual charters from enrolling any student who is not an Indiana resident. If it is found that a virtual program cannot verify that a student is from Indiana, the operator must pay back state tuition support for that student.
  • Require school corporations that operate charters to withdraw from enrollment any student who accumulates enough unexcused absences that the student is defined as “habitually truant.”
  • Require teachers at virtual schools to comply with training and professional development requirements.

“All of these proposals reflect ongoing concerns expressed by people who look at inflated enrollment numbers and continuously poor performance results and wonder about the veracity of all that is being taught and learned in a virtual education,” Smith said.

While pleased that the amendments were approved, Smith emphasized that he would be asking lawmakers to take a more proactive role in providing oversight and accountability for the virtual charter schools across Indiana.

“This has been yet another attempt to divert funding from Indiana’s public schools toward programs that often have little oversight, but do have a certain amount of pull through those who are in charge of education policy at the state level,” Smith said. “There is a growing public clamor for reforms here, and it is important for the Legislature to protect our educational system.”

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