Howe High School, Indianapolis

State of Indiana says 2 high schools in Indianapolis can keep operating as charters

March 22, 2019
The state took control of Howe and Manual high schools in 2012 and hired a charter firm to run them.

The Indiana State Board of Education has voted to allow Howe and Manual high schools in Indianapolis to stay open as charter schools, over the objections of the district that once controlled them.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the vote answers to the question of what would happen to the schools, which were taken over by the state in 2012, once state control ends next year. Not everyone is pleased with the outcome, though.

The Indianapolis district had asked the state to delay any decision for a month. The district is working through legal issues involving debt owed on the two buildings. Interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson also says the district is weighing options that would keep the schools open.

The district had originally planned to close both high schools as part of a larger high school reorganization that started in 2017, but with new leadership and new board members, the district is willing to consider alternative paths, she says. 

After years of poor performance, the state board in 2012 took over Howe, Manual and a middle school and brought in a charter school management organization to run them. With that contract set to expire in 2020, the board convened a task force to determine the future of the schools.

It recommended the management group retain the schools and seek charters to operate them independently — a recommendation the state board followed.

Communities around both schools have lobbied hard to keep the doors open, and members of the Manual alumni group celebrated the board's decision. 

But a group of concerned community members says the task force report adopted  by the board was "flawed from the outset" and designed to favor Charter Schools USA, the management organization hired by the state.

The majority of state board members voted to move forward and allow Charter Schools USA to seek the charters it will need to continue operating the schools past 2020.

For the first several years of the takeover, student scores on state tests remained low. The two high schools, as well as Emma Donnan Middle School, received F's on the state's accountability model in 2016. This past year, though, Emma Donnan and Manual received C grades. Howe is still failing.

Should Howe and Manual charters be granted, the schools will transition for the 2020-21 school year. Emma Donnan is not affected in the same way, because it already has an agreement with the Indianapolis district to join the its innovation network — a partnership between the district and charter schools. 

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