Indianapolis Public Schools Providing Distance Learning Through Charter Schools


Instead of offering their own distance education next year, Indianapolis public schools are offering to direct students to two local virtual charter schools.

Students who wish to continue their distance learning next year will need to transfer to the Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy or Paramount Online Academy. The IPS board reviewed the partnership agreements on Tuesday evening and plans to vote on them on Thursday.

Under these partnerships, the two virtual charter schools would join the district as schools of innovation, operating independently with additional supervision and funding from IPS. The agreements provide for a period of five years.

District teachers taught virtual and in-person students simultaneously. Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said it had been “incredibly difficult and unsustainable in the long run.”

“We need to make sure that we have an option that doesn’t put that lift on our individual teachers, but that could still meet our families who want this virtual option in the future,” Johnson said.

IPS officials said last month they interviewed about 5,000 families of distance-learning students through online surveys, a high school consultative meeting and parent focus groups. About 650 people responded. According to the district, 60% of respondents said they would like a full-time virtual option next year, but Johnson said she expects hundreds – not thousands – of students to attend. ‘register for the virtual option.

The Phalen Virtual Leadership Academy has 2,000 seats for Kindergarten to Grade 8 students and 500 seats for Grades 9 to 12. Paramount Online Academy has 558 places for children from Kindergarten to Grade 8.

The two virtual schools will receive public funding per student and an additional $ 500 per student in the district.

The additional district funding will allow schools to deliver a “high-quality, small-scale, all-virtual program,” according to IPS documents. Daily live lessons will be held at both schools.

The funds would cover the technology and facilities needs of the two schools. Paramount, for example, plans to use some of that funding for noise insulation for teachers, Johnson said.

Virtual schools submitted applications. Johnson said the district academics team then asked leaders about their program, their student feedback cycle and the grading system to make sure everything was up to district standards.

Two years ago, lawmakers in Indiana cut funding for virtual schools due to poor performance and began funding virtual schools at 85% of what it normally provides to districts for each student. Amid widespread distance learning this school year, the state has fully funded all students.

On Tuesday evening, a few board members said they were hesitant because schools are new and virtual charter schools have a history of poor performance in Indiana.

“The two only did it for a year, just like we only did for a year as well,” Board member Taria Slack said. “There is no data on either option.”

Susan Collins, a board member, also wanted more documentation on the success of virtual schools.

“I don’t really see how this particular opportunity which has been very risky and in many cases not even effective in teaching – to put this in our wallet just seems a little too fragile for me,” Collins said.

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