Indiana lawmakers divided as board of education grants accreditation to private virtual schools

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Indiana State Board of Education has granted provisional accreditation to two private virtual schools — a first for the state.

This new option for K-12 education has divided state lawmakers as it puts both private institutions a step closer to accepting eligible students with government-funded vouchers.

FaithPrep Indiana and the Geo Focus Academy will be able to receive full accreditation in two years, according to memos from the Indiana Department of Education.

“The vast majority of our students were in school the entire school year,” Indiana Education Secretary Katie Jenner said shortly before the board’s vote Wednesday morning.

Jenner called that one of the successes for Indiana’s schools this past year, but that didn’t stop the board of education from accrediting the two virtual institutions.

State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), chair of the Senate’s education committee, was not part of Wednesday’s vote but said he supports the decision.

“They certainly are within the confines of existing law, and they followed procedure,” Raatz said.

Holly Lawson, a state education department spokesperson, said the institutions met the requirements for accreditation, and state officials will monitor the schools going forward.

But State Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis), who serves on the House education committee, argues those standards are not high enough.

“We have not fully analyzed at the State Board of Education or anywhere else what the impact of this virtual education has been,” DeLaney said.

Despite their differences, many officials remain united on the push to get kids back in the classroom full time this fall.

“In this case, I’m hoping it will be a tool you use now and then and not in place of teachers in the classroom teaching kids,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana).

For private schools, state accreditation is voluntary, according to Lawson.

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