Indiana School District Blocks Charter School Competition

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Board members at Fort Wayne Community Schools have found a crafty way of preventing charter schools from moving in on their territory, despite new laws designed to help the schools acquire underutilized public school buildings.

They voted to simply transfer the title of their closed elementary school, Pleasant Center, to the Fort Wayne Allen County Airport Authority, which is expected to vote on a resolution to acquire the school building next week.

Unfortunately, it’s the area’s low-income students and their parents who will ultimately pay the price.

Last month, officials at Timothy L. Johnson Academy – a charter school that serves primarily low-income students in southeast Fort Wayne – expressed interest to FWCS officials in moving to Pleasant Center under new laws that allow charters to lease or buy underutilized public school buildings for $1.

Johnson Academy currently operates out of a church and another former school downtown, but enrollment has continued to increase and school officials are looking for room to grow.

FWCS leaders immediately balked at the idea, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported.

“From the community standpoint, we would rather see it be used for economic development purposes and work with the Chamber (of Commerce) and county to try to create tax dollars rather than drain tax dollars,” FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta told the newspaper.

Translation: A charter school at Pleasant Center would potentially draw students, and their per-pupil state funding, away from FWCS.

The district apparently made their position official when they voted to transfer the building to the airport authority to avoid the competition from Johnson Academy. The building, bought and maintained with tax dollars, is meant to educate kids.

While we understand GiaQuinta’s concerns, we believe that he’s putting the district’s interests above the interests of some of the area’s most vulnerable students by limiting their educational options.

We believe that the move could have benefited existing Johnson Academy students by providing a quality learning environment. Other low-income students in the area would have had more educational options by increasing the Academy’s capacity.

Students at FWCS could have benefited from the move as well, because the district would be under increased pressure to provide quality instruction in order to prevent parents from transferring their children to Johnson Academy.

That’s how the new reforms are designed to work, and it’s the reasoning behind new laws that allow charters to takeover underutilized public schools. FWCS’ plann to avoid that competition is certainly clever, and it will undoubtedly save the district a few bucks by hindering the growth of Johnson Academy.

But what about the low-income parents who would like a chance to send their children to the charter school?

FWCS leaders sent a clear answer when they voted to transfer the property to the airport authority: We don’t care.

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