Charter Schools: Empowering Parents, Driving Student Success

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Bob Behning is a member of the Indiana House of Representatives.

Indiana believes in empowering parents to make educational choices for their children.

Our state continues to rank at or near the top of the Center for Education Reform’s Parent Power Index each year for a parent’s ability to exercise educational options for their children. That’s because our focus remains on improving outcomes for Hoosier students and expanding high-quality learning opportunities.

Indiana’s public charter school law has been deemed the strongest in the nation by both the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. With this success, few people are aware of our state’s rocky climb to the top. Indiana’s powerful charter school movement stems from a hard-fought, years-long legislative effort. While our first charter school was authorized in 2001, it would be another decade before a major reform package would remove roadblocks to charter school expansion and pave the way for the educational freedom Hoosiers enjoy today. In fact, a new study revealed that all Hoosier students are within 30 minutes of a highly rated school option.

Indiana House Republicans spearheaded the historic legislation in 2011, which significantly expanded charter schools, allowed for more charter school authorizers, provided new paths for traditional public schools to become charter schools, and increased funding for charter schools. At the time, this measure represented the largest policy shift in the state’s education system in two decades.

Today, Indiana’s 93 charter schools serve more than 44,000 students.  

Building on our progress, charter schools also demonstrate positive academic growth in grades 4-8 while enrolling students with significantly greater academic needs.

According to the 2017 National Assessment for Educational Progress, Indiana was only one of a few states that boosted eighth-grade reading scoresup four points. Our state also ranked sixth in the nation for fourth-grade math and 12th for eighth-grade math.

Our state’s charter school enrollment is concentrated in high-poverty areas with a great percentage of low-income, minority, and English-language learner students. Nearly 85 percent of charter school students live within a district with a higher percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals than the state average.

It is clear charter schools’ increased autonomy creates more opportunities for unique educational options for families, including serving special student populations and helping adult learners go back to school and earn their diploma. On top of increased flexibilities, strong accountability measures also played a key role in improving educational outcomes for Hoosier students.

While charter schools are semi-autonomous from certain state regulations, they are required to administer all statewide assessments and receive an A-F performance rating using the same methodology as any Hoosier public school. Additionally, Indiana’s law outlines specific oversight and accountability provisions for charter school authorizers, ensures all authorizers have a valid process for approving charter schools, and requires any organizer of a charter school be recognized by the IRS as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. Maintaining balance between autonomy and accountability is a critical piece of Indiana’s charter school law.

During my time as a state legislator, I’ve been a firm believer a student should not be trapped by their zip code, and they should have the opportunity to pursue an education at a school that best fits their needs. While the popularity of traditional public schools remains high, Indiana continues to make a strong case for the positive effects of the charter school model and parent empowerment.

Bob Behning is a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, representing the 91st district, and Chairman of the House Education Committee.

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