Thursday, February 25, 2016

Indiana forgives charter school loans

Carmen McCollum, Aug 31, 2013 

Many local educators and politicians are calling outrageous a recent law forgiving $91.2 million in loans to charter schools, in light of tight finances faced by public schools across the region and districts that have had to raise taxes to maintain programs and quality teachers. Moreover, they say, they are not forgiven such loans and must pay back any loans provided by the state's Common School Fund.

Indiana's General Assembly approved a provision in last session's budget bill calling for the state to forgive the Common School Fund loans made to charter schools, erasing nearly $92 million of their debt to the state.

Stacey Schmidt, superintendent of the Porter Township School Corp., said her district has borrowed from the Common School Fund for technology and construction. She said the district most recently used loans to support its one-to-one computer program for grades nine through 12 and to address needs at the high school's wastewater treatment plant.

Schmidt said the district owes $3.4 million and is scheduled to make the final payment in 2028.

"If we want to be fair and equitable, the same standard should be applied to all schools, so the loans should be forgiven for everyone," she said.

"Charter schools are being given some advantages that traditional public schools are not given. In this financial climate, we'd like to be afforded the opportunity of having our Common School Fund loan forgiven as well."

Charter schools are public schools have more flexibility to operate than traditional public schools. They also do not have unions. There are nine charter schools in Northwest Indiana.

Gary Rep. Vernon Smith also said the charter debt forgiveness was unfair.

"All other schools have to pay back their Common School Fund loan," he said. "Part of the justification used was that they (charter schools) don't get money for transportation and a couple of other things. My point is that the charter schools understood the playing rules when they were established. We are constantly taking money from traditional public schools and giving it to charters."

Indiana Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said traditional public schools just want more money.

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