On Wednesday, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus held a press conference to discuss their efforts to push for accountability and transparency in virtual charter schools. State Senators Eddie Melton (D-Gary) and Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington) both offered bills during the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions aimed at providing more oversight to virtual charter schools, but these bills never received committee hearings. In light of the recent report that tens of millions in taxpayer dollars were stolen by virtual charter schools, Senate Democrats will offer these proposals as amendments to House Bill (HB) 1204.
Sen. Stoops’ proposal, this year’s Senate Bill (SB) 431, would require each organizer and authorizer of a charter school to submit a surety bond or other financial guarantee, relieving state taxpayers of any fiscal liability. It also requires authorizers to co-sign loans by charter schools, adding oversight to any debt accumulation and ties enrollment and administrative fees to the schools’ performance.
“It’s a shame that efforts to institute accountability and appropriate oversight in virtual charter schools have been repeatedly blocked by the Republican supermajority,” Sen. Stoops said. “I’ve authored proposals for the last four years that could have prevented this $86 million loss to taxpayers and students, and my bills have been denied hearings each year. At a time when special interests backing charter and private school ventures have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on behalf of their own endeavors, it is more important than ever that these accountability measures get put in place.”
Sen. Melton’s SB 183 from last session would have capped the number of students that could enroll in a virtual charter school, preventing fraudulent over-reporting of enrollees. It also required virtual charter schools to provide the state with information to justify their per-student funding amount, which would have raised concerns when these schools reported more students than actually enrolled.
“My Senate Democratic colleagues and I have made numerous efforts to demand accountability from virtual charter schools and ensure that state funds are being used legally,” Sen. Melton said. “When taxpayer dollars and our students’ education are on the line, it’s our duty as legislators to ensure that the institutions receiving that money are using it for education. In the case of virtual charter schools, we now know unequivocally that multiple schools were doing exactly what Senate Democrats warned could happen – defrauding taxpayers. Now Indiana is out $86 million – money which could have been used to invest in our public schools and teachers.”
The amendments to HB 1204 will be offered during the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Thursday.