Court ruling says Indianapolis doesn't have to sell empty buildings to charter groups

Nov. 14, 2023
A state law directs school districts to offer closed buildings to charter schools for $1, but a judge decided that Indianapolis qualified for an exemption.

The Indianapolis (Indiana) school district will be allowed to sell two closed school buildings without first offering them to charter schools for $1, a judge has ruled.

Chalkbeat Indiana reports that the ruling in the district's favor came despite a state law that requires districts to make shuttered facilities available to charter schools or state education institutions for $1 sales or leases.

Judge Heather Welch concluded that the Indianapois district can sell the buildings because it previously agreed to share referendum funding with its Innovation Network charter schools in 2021.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, and the State Board of Education went to court to force Indianapolis to sell the empty schools. The ruling means the district can sell Raymond Brandes School 65 and Francis Bellamy School 102, both of which closed to students at the end of last school year.

The school district said in a statement that it was grateful for the judge’s ruling.

“We’re proud that we have already worked with organizations and community members so that, along with a number of possible options, some of these buildings will serve students with mental health needs, deaf students, and adult learners,” the statement said. “We continue to strive to not only be a good partner but also be fiscally responsible with the resources that have been entrusted to us by our community.”

The lawsuit hinged on a new exemption to the $1 law, and highlighted ongoing tension between the Indianapolis district and the broader charter community over resources and facilities.

That exemption applies to districts that distribute money from a voter-approved tax increase for operating or safety expenses to an “applicable charter school.”

The attorney general's office, however, argued that the district also needed to comply with a new referendum-sharing requirement imposed on school districts this year in order to be exempt.

That new requirement says school districts in Marion County and three other counties must share operating or safety referendum funds with charter schools that enroll a student in that district for any ballot question passed after May 10, 2023. 

In her ruling, Welch applied the “unambiguous” language of the exemption statute as written, arguing that the district is already distributing referendum funds to at least one charter school and is therefore exempt from the $1 requirement. The exemption applies for as long as IPS continues to give its charter schools such distributions, the ruling said. The distributions are slated to last through 2026.

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