GARY — When the Indiana State Board of Education meets Wednesday morning in Indianapolis, it will consider whether to give Gary's Ambassador Christian Academy a waiver for its suspension from the state's voucher program because of two consecutive D grades.
School vouchers, called Choice Scholarships, allow a family to use public school tax dollars to send their youngster to a private school. The voucher program was initially approved in 2011.
Gary attorney Tony Walker, who is a member of the State Board of Education, said Monday that based on the school accountability grades, the school did not show student growth last year over the previous year.
"This was a formula that significantly weighted growth over proficiency," he said. "I will listen to their appeal on Wednesday and decide if they have a reasonable explanation. Otherwise, the recommended sanction will prevent them from receiving vouchers for newly enrolled students, but they will keep the voucher funds for students already matriculated."
In a memo to the Indiana State Board of Education, the Department of Education recommended Ambassador not be granted a waiver.
Ambassador principal Danielle Graham-Harris, who replaced former principal Vercena Stewart, did not return calls for comment.
However in a letter to SBOE, Graham-Harris said students were moving in the right direction.
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She also said 30 percent of the teaching staff had been replaced with Indiana certified teachers and the remaining 70 percent have been given one year to obtain Indiana licensure or provide proof of enrollment in a university accredited program that leads to an Indiana teaching license.
Since the school began received vouchers in 2011, it has grown significantly with the vast majority of students on vouchers. The Christian school, established by Embassies of Christ Church in Gary, often led the state, receiving millions of dollars since the voucher program began.
Of the 190 students enrolled at the school in 2016-17, 154 of them received a voucher
The school has attracted local and statewide attention, including a visit from former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who toured the school in 2011. Indiana Department of Education records show Ambassador earned an A that year.
In 2012, it earned a C, and in 2013, it earned an F. For the last two consecutive years, the school has been rated a D.
A private school cannot accept new students with vouchers if it earns a D or an F for two consecutive years.
Four schools in Indiana have successfully received waivers from the state. They are Central Christian Academy, Turning Point School and Trinity Lutheran School, all in Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne's Lutheran South Unity School. That was approved at the board's June 7 meeting.