The Mind Trust on CSP and Community-Driven Change

Aug 9, 2023 4:48:06 PM


Indianapolis, Indiana is home to a diverse and growing community of public charter schools. Demand from families, especially families of color, has sustained this growth and helped inspire unique, community-centered models.

However, proposed changes to the Charter Schools Program (CSP) are set to stifle this education progress being informed by students, families, and educators.

Like many cities, Indianapolis faces educational inequities that can cause lifelong consequences for students of color and those experiencing poverty. Public charter schools in our city help students achieve more academic success than their peers in district-run schools, even out-performing, wealthier, suburban schools. Thousands of students and families have the option to select a school based on their students’ needs rather than being told where to go based on where they live.

The Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation has a rigorous charter school authorization process that considers community demand and needs when deciding whether to allow a school to open or expand. If over-enrollment had been a driving factor in Indianapolis when the Mayor’s Office began authorizing schools in 2001, students would not have benefited from the high-quality options they have today since the city’s largest public school district has experienced enrollment declines for decades.

In the 2021-2022 school year, more than 50% of families in Indianapolis Public School (IPS) district boundaries chose to send their student to a public charter school: 84% of students whose families choose charter schools are students of color; 77% of public charter school students in Indianapolis qualify for federal free or reduced lunch. 

The CSP has provided much-needed start-up funding to create life-changing charter schools in Indianapolis. However, the proposed changes to the CSP will give Washington bureaucrats more say in local educational decisions than Black, Latino, low-income, and other historically marginalized families.

The Biden administration and legislative leaders should follow President Obama’s lead in retaining the flexibility for local authorizers to make nuanced decisions in evaluating their communities' needs and avoid imposing limits on culturally affirming schools.

The proposed CSP provisions around measuring local needs and demands remove the important discretion of authorizers to determine what can work best for their communities. These restrictions imply that a public charter school has no place in an area with poor-performing, district-run schools if those schools are not “over-enrolled.” Simply put, this is a policy that would protect existing systems over the needs of students. To truly place students at the center of this decision would be to measure demand by whether or not a student has access to a high-quality school—period.

Fast forward to today: IPS enrollment is increasing due to the growth of charter school partnerships—called Innovation Network Schools—within the district. Over 40% of IPS students attend an Innovation Network School during the 2021-22 school year. More students now attend IPS than at any point in over a decade, and this enrollment growth has been driven exclusively by the growth of Innovation Network Schools. Breakthroughs like this are only possible when local leaders can make decisions based on the unique context of their communities.

Another heartening local trend is the growth of schools led and founded by leaders of color. Most students living within IPS boundaries identify as Black or Latino. The founders and leadership teams of schools like BELIEVE Circle City High School, Rooted School Indianapolis, and Global Preparatory Academy are primarily Black and Latino educators. Studies show that all students benefit when they have teachers and school administrators of color.

Underrepresented students and families benefit when the people leading their school understand their language and culture and share a similar background.

Proposed CSP provisions still allow any school to apply but put an emphasis on “integrated” schools. For instance, the application would ask leaders to ensure their school would not otherwise increase racial or socio-economic segregation or isolation. However, some of the most “racially diverse” schools in the Indianapolis region are home to the state’s most significant academic racial disparities; indeed, classrooms housing advanced courses in “integrated schools” are often some of the most racially segregated places in Indianapolis. Given this reality, students from marginalized backgrounds should be able to choose culturally affirming schools.

President Biden and legislative leaders have the opportunity to continue a bipartisan tradition of supporting community-driven proposals to create new, life-changing schools in historically marginalized communities. On which side of history will our federal leaders stand? Will they create barriers to community-driven transformational change or will they stand with children and families?

This post originally appeared at NACSA.

Brandon Brown

Since 2018, Brandon Brown has served as CEO of The Mind Trust, leading the organization’s groundbreaking work to provide every Indianapolis student with the opportunity to attend an excellent school. He formerly served as The Mind Trust’s Senior Vice President for Education Innovation, primarily focusing on The Mind Trust’s Innovation School Fellowship, a unique partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) to incubate excellent Innovation Network Schools that serve all students well. Before joining The Mind Trust, Brandon served as the city of Indianapolis’ charter schools director under former Mayor Greg Ballard. As charter schools director from 2012 to 2015, Brandon oversaw 35 charter schools and four turnaround schools serving nearly 15,000 students. Also under his watch, the Mayor’s Office opened 15 new charter schools and gained oversight of four turnaround schools. He also served in several leadership roles with Teach For America, including managing director of community partnerships in the Indianapolis office. Brandon was previously a Teach For America corps member and taught English at Carnahan High School in St. Louis. Brandon was selected by Indianapolis Business Journal for its “40 Under 40” class in 2019. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He currently serves on the community advisory committee for the Indianapolis eLearning Fund, on the Marian University Center for Vibrant Schools Board of Visitors, and is a board member for the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. He has been an advisory board member for Teach Plus-Indianapolis; statewide council member for the Indiana Center for Family, School, and Community Partnerships; and member of the Central Indiana Education Alliance.

The Feed


  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...

  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...