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More dollars for failing schools?

When the Indiana Senate's Education and Career Development Committee convenes tomorrow to consider expanding the state's massive voucher entitlement program, someone should ask lawmakers how they can justify spending $1 million in tax dollars on schools that received an F under the state's A-F accountability system.

Fort Wayne's Cornerstone Christian College Prep is one of those schools. All but 40 of its 156 students received vouchers to attend this year. Most likely came from Fort Wayne Community Schools, although it's difficult to know because the Indiana Department of Education is no longer posting student mobility information.

In fact, it's difficult to know much about Cornerstone overall. Last spring, just 17 students in grades 3-8 – fewer than a third – passed the math and language arts portions of ISTEP+, according to IDOE data. There's no way to know how Cornerstone's high school students performed on end-of-course assessments because the scores are suppressed for groups of fewer than 10 students so as not to violate student privacy requirements.

Interestingly, enrollment data and most attendance data for the school also are suppressed, suggesting there were fewer than 10 students in many of its grade levels.

Sen. Tim Skinner's office shared with The Journal Gazette copies of "Random Visit Reports" from 13 voucher schools. A Cornerstone report is not among them, but the documentation hardly inspires confidence in the IDOE's oversight of voucher schools. The handwritten reports are essentially a four-item checklist, covering admissions policy, lottery process, parent assurance forms and employee criminal history checks. The school reviewer apparently is not required to examine the criminal history checks, as the form simply indicates the school administrator has confirmed they were done.

Education policy that trumpets accountability seems to demand little of it from voucher schools. If the General Assembly's voucher supporters believe they are making policy based on sound data, they need to produce the data.

Wednesday's 1:30 p.m. committee hearing also will include discussion of the cursive writing curriculum requirement, rewards for high-performing school districts and changes to the state's flawed surplus school-building law.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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