We hope state legislators are feeling outraged by the scandal involving two online charter schools.
Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Private Academy are accused of inflating their enrollment figures and bilking the state government out of more than $40 million.
The amount in dispute equals roughly half the tax dollars the schools received over the past three years. Allegedly, they reported at least twice as many students as they actually had enrolled.
Charter schools are treated like public schools, receiving state tax dollars based on their student enrollments.
The two online schools, which share an office on the north side of Indianapolis, reported a combined 7,250 students last fall.
In case you think this is a problem for someone else downstate, you may be surprised to know that 207 students from the four counties of northeast Indiana were listed as enrolled in the IVS and IVPA. (The true number is anybody’s guess.)
The total of 178 local students with IVPA includes 40 from the East Noble district, 39 who live in the DeKalb Central district and 23 from the Angola school territory.
Charters for the two schools were authorized by Daleville Community Schools, a small district northeast of Indianapolis with only 961 students.
Clearly, Daleville did not have enough administrative staff to keep close tabs on the much larger charter schools.
Until a recent audit by the State Board of Accounts found evidence suggesting deceit, apparently the state wasn’t watching the virtual schools, either.
“No one should be surprised by this scandal. When an agency/school collects state dollars without oversight, abuse will occur,” said Jeffrey Stephens, superintendent of DeKalb Eastern schools and northeast Indiana’s longest-serving school chief.
Until now, operation of virtual schools in Indiana has been like “the Wild West,” Adam Baker, Department of Education press secretary, told one news outlet.
Closing the barn door too late, state legislators passed some new rules for virtual schools this year.
State funding for students in virtual programs will be reduced to 85 percent of the amount for students attending traditional public schools. That makes sense, because virtual schools avoid many of the costs involved in operating a brick-and-mortar school.
The new law requires virtual charter schools to report annually how they determine attendance rates. (Hopefully by some better method than multiplying the students by two.)
One news report contends that the virtual schools employed very few teachers considering their enrollments, and that they spent a high percentage of their tax dollars on administration.
Trying to check that report on the Department of Education website, we found: “Teacher data is not available for Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.” Check any traditional public school, and you can find its number of teachers.
The scandal should not cause Indiana to abandon virtual schools. A small percentage of our student population needs them.
At the Daleville school board meeting Thursday night, one mother wept for the loss of her son‘s virtual school. She said he is on the autism spectrum and was bullied in traditional public and private schools.
Indiana needs to provide options for students like that young man, but we need to make sure virtual schools are run by serious educators — not people who are out to scam the state.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.