Lawmakers look at ways to hold virtual charter schools accountable

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana lawmakers are looking at ways to hold virtual charter schools accountable after an audit showed two of those schools got more than 60-million dollars, they were not entitled to.

The audit found school officials at “Indiana Virtual” and “Virtual Pathways” academies were inflating enrollment numbers and then funneling the extra cash they got from the state to their own companies.

State Representative Ed DeLaney said the audit results were not surprising.

“The report detailed things we had the general idea of last summer," said DeLaney. "And I tried to get the legislature to study the problem last summer and they refused to do that.”

DeLaney is still asking for that study committee.

“If you are going to have virtual schools, then you ought to monitor them and you ought to watch your money, and even more importantly, you ought to watch what’s happening to kids," said DeLaney. "There are thousands of kids who didn’t get an education even though we paid for that education. That is a double hit to the public in my view.”

Hundreds of those kids have since transferred to Indiana Connections Academy, another virtual school option in the state. Many of those students came to Connections without any transcripts or record of what they’ve learned.

Executive Director Chandre Sanchez Reyes said helping those students has been challenging.

“It’s just really sad,” said Reyes. “They’re essentially starting from scratch.”

Representative DeLaney passed an amendment that would put more requirements on virtual charter schools. He hopes it passes this session.

“It simply imposed two requirements that the Department of Education determine how many hours a student in a virtual program needs to be active, on the computer answering questions, taking tests or whatever, and then whether the student has taken the state wide test,” said DeLaney.

He said if the student doesn’t meet those reporting requirements, the state takes the money back from the virtual school.

Indiana Connections Academy supports transparency and accountability measures.

“We want to do good with the public money," said Reyes. "This is public money that we are getting to serve students across the state of Indiana.”

But she wants to make sure whatever passes is necessary.

“How did this happen? And does this really mean we need more rules and regulations or does this actually mean that we just need to make sure that we have some checks and balances and a system for coming forward if something looks awry?” said Reyes.

DeLaney feels an in-depth study committee could answer those questions.

“Let’s look at it, that’s our job, that’s not anybody else’s job," said DeLaney. "That’s not the State Board of Account’s job, that’s not the school principal’s job, that’s our job. But we just don’t like to do that. And I think we’ve got to change that.”

The two schools mentioned in the report closed last year after Daleville Community Schools revoked their charter status.

The case is now in the hand of state and federal law enforcement agencies who will decide if any charges should be filed against school officials.

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