INDIANAPOLIS — Some Indiana school corporations have found a way around the state’s so-called “$1 Law,” and State Senator Linda Rogers is none too happy about that.

“(School) buildings are being kept open to use just for storage or offices,” Rogers told the State Senate’s Education Committee last week.

If a school corporation closes an instructional building, Indiana law requires the district to “sell (or lease) the building to a charter school for one dollar.”

The law went into effect in 2019 and was championed by State House Republicans who want expanded school choice.

What school districts have figured out is if some activity remains in a building, even if classes are no longer taught there, they can keep the school. One example is Indianapolis Public Schools. Through its reorganizational plan, Rebuilding Stronger, six older schools were identified as no longer needed for instruction. At least initially, IPS insisted the buildings were not closed but rather being repurposed.

Among the new uses for schools include offices, storage, meeting venues and training centers.

Rogers is the author of State Senate Bill 391, which would alter the “$1 Law.” The legislation’s proposed changes include making the Indian Education Department that final arbiter on which school buildings will be available to charter schools. The job current falls to the Attorney General’s Office.

The bill language also addresses “under-utilized” school buildings. If 60% of a school’s space is not dedicated to classroom instruction, that school could be offered up. Buildings used for storage must dedicate at least 50% of space to that. And if a school corporation is found to have willfully ignored or violated the proposed new law, it could face a civil penalty of 3% of its state education aid.

Opposition to the bill includes the American Teachers Federation of Indiana, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents and the Indiana School Boards Association.

“In our view, it’s going to expand the opportunities for charter schools to utilize public school buildings, “ said Lisa Tanselle, general counsel for the school board association.

Tanselle also notes losing a building can be a substantial penalty for a school corporation.

“To make the building available for one dollar and not fair market value, I think is a concern, and I think it’s the concern of the taxpayers as well.”

Rogers disagrees.

“The taxpayers paid for that building to be used for public education, and charter schools are public schools.”    

The prospects of the bill making it all the way to Governor Eric Holcomb’s desk are not immediately clear, but it does align with priorities of leadership in both chambers of the State House who’ve been advocates for expanded school choice.

You can read the full State Senate Bill 391 below: