COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s freshman state representative said last week that while the proposed state law expanding charter schools in Indiana is a controversial issue, her ultimate loyalty has to be with students in the Hoosier State.
“In education, I know we are so fortunate to have successful schools, teachers and administrators in our district,” said Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City.
“But there are many who are from larger, more metro areas who are struggling with school systems that are not working for their children, and these parents don’t have the opportunity to send them to private or more expensive schools. “
The Indiana Department of Education’s website defines charter schools as having been “created to provide innovative and creative educational choices for students and their parents.”
Charter schools tend to be exempt from many state and school district regulations and generally have more autonomy than a traditional public school.
The bill (HB 1002), passed the house last week 59-37.
It proposes expanding education opportunities for Indiana students by removing caps on the number of charter schools allowed and by loosening restrictions on the start up of charter schools.
While charter schools can serve as independent entities, essentially acting as their own school district, the bill would also open up certain types of state funding not currently available for charter schools.
Heuer said more than 3,500 students are on the waiting lists for the charter schools currently in place in Indiana.
She said the bill, which moved to the Senate last week, would boost the number of “entities able to sponsor charter schools.
“But we have really tightened the rules they must abide by,” she said, “making sure the schools and students are held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools.
“In fact, their student accountability is held to a higher standard than the public schools.”
In Indiana, an individual charter school is considered to be its own local educational agency, according to the Department of Education.
Charter schools have been available since 2001 with the law last amended in 2007.
The Center For Education Reform ranks Indiana’s charter school laws as the eighth strongest among 41 states who have such legislation.
“We currently have 60 public charter schools that serve more than 22,000 students,” said Heuer.
She added that 2,530 of those students have special needs.
“Currently, 71 percent of the state’s charter school students are members of an ethnic minority and 66 percent of charter school students qualify for the federal free and/or reduced lunch program.
“The choice of charter schools for these students made more sense to their parents. What we are trying to do is to give parents the ability to choose what education is best for their child.
“According to the superintendents in my district, the charter school issue will affect us very little,” she said.
Heuer said she did her homework before casting her vote on the issue.
“I made my vote on this after weeks of intense research and questions, talking to local teachers, principals and the majority of my superintendents,” she said.
“ I feel I made an informed vote based on the information in the bill.”