Lawmakers created an avenue for charter schools to access referendum funding Monday, with a sudden change to legislation in the Senate that worries public education advocates.
Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger) offered a proposal to a bill this week to let school corporations partner with charter schools to split referendum funding. Indiana law already says if school boards approve, school corporations can share some of their operations funding with local charter schools.
Rogers says she hasn't heard from any public school corporations that want the referendum splitting option, but she says it could get people whose kids attend local charter schools to support a local referendum measure.
"So I think it would enhance their chances of passing," she says.
Rogers says the referendum sharing is not mandatory, and if schools choose to share referendum funds with charters, they have to outline how they would do so in an agreement ahead of time.
"Well the school board has to first decide to work with the charter school, and then they would meet and come together to see if it's anything that they can agree upon." she says.
Several lawmakers pushed back on the idea, and took issue with the timing of the proposal being made public. A fellow Republican, Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), criticized the move ahead of the Senate's vote, citing a lack of public input from schools.
"Is it really fair and equitable for the people that represent the school corporations, the school board associations and all that to find the wording in this some couple of hours ago, this morning?" he says.
Public education advocates worry the move is a first step to force school districts to split those dollars with nearby charter schools – a concern also shared by some lawmakers. Charter organizations can't access property tax dollars like traditional school districts, and have long pressed lawmakers to explore the issue.
The Republican-dominated chamber was split on the vote. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch ultimately had to break the tie and voted in favor, with the measure approved 26 to 25.
Lawmakers also briefly considered language to limit how often school districts could propose referendum measures. That proposal was ultimately removed from the bill after pushback from education groups and other lawmakers.