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Changes to Federal Poverty Aid Dollars for Indiana Charter Schools Under Scrutiny

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UPDATED

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Indiana's schools chief Glenda Ritz is asking the U.S. Department of Education to clear up guidelines for distributing federal funding to charter schools with large numbers of low-income students.

This comes after several Indiana charter schools received significant cuts to their Title I funding this year, and two U.S. congressmen from Indiana raised questions over whether charters were being adequately funded.

[UPDATE (7:30 p.m.): An Indiana Department of Education spokesman said the state will follow federal rules and make sure all charter schools receive the appropriate funding, according to the Associated Press.]

In an email sent to the Indiana Department of Education on Friday, The U.S. Department of Education said that state education officials made a mistake when calculating Title I funding for charters, according to Chalkbeat Indiana, which obtained a copy of the email.

More from Chalkbeat Indiana's Shaina Cavazos:

"State Superintendent Glenda Ritz's department did not base Title I funding for charter schools on the prior year's funding as the law requires, federal officials said. In doing so, charter schools got a 'Title I allocation that declined by more than 15 percent from their FY 2014 total allocation,' the email said.

Less than one percent of traditional public school districts saw as steep of cuts, federal officials added."

Earlier last week, U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, both Republicans, sent a letter to Ritz, a Democrat, raising concerns over the disparities in Title I funding for charter and district schools, as my coworker Andrew Ujifusa wrote on the Politics K-12 blog:

"Specifically, they note reports from earlier this month that at the same time charters in Indiana lost $2.3 million in Title I money for fiscal 2016, traditional public schools such as the Indianapolis district saw a $1.6 million increase in that funding stream.

The two congressional representatives go on to write that for fiscal 2016, 22 of the 59 charter schools in Indiana received less than 85 percent of their Title I funding during the previous fiscal year. That fact, according to Messer and Rokita, appears to be in violation of Title I regulations, which include a 'hold harmless' provision for such funds.

'This is particularly troubling given that no traditional public school corporation experienced similar cuts,' they wrote to Ritz, a Democrat. Both Messer and Rokita are on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

A spokesman for the Indiana department, Daniel Altman, told the Indiana Business Journal that the fault lies with charters for submitting incorrect data, and also criticized Messer and Rokita for what he said was taking political advantage of the situation." 

You can find the full letter from Messer and Rokita on the Politics K-12 blog.

This is the latest of several spats between Ritz and Indiana Republicans over a host of education issues beyond charter schools, including assessment, accountability, and even control of Indiana's State Board of Education.

Related: 

Photo: Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz at an event last February. —AJ Mast/AP-File


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