Des Moines Register Reports on HSADSM

(Published online, January 13, 2023, by Samantha Hernandez)

Des Moines' new charter school may start enrolling kids in February. What you should know.

Des Moines' first charter school in more than a decade, which will target students of color from low-income neighborhoods, should be up and running this fall after the Iowa Board of Education approved its application.

Horizon Science Academy is slated to enroll as many as 190 students in kindergarten through third grade for classes focusing on (STEM) science, math and technology. Additional grades will be added each year.

If the Board of Education approves Horizon's contract, as expected, it will become the third new charter school founded in Iowa — and the first using an outside management company — under a 2021 law that expands education options in the state.

Here is what to know about Horizon Science Academy:

What is a charter school, and what rules will Horizon be required to follow?

Charter schools are tuition-free schools that students voluntarily attend. They are publicly funded but independently run under an approved contract, or charter, with the state.

Charter schools in Iowa are considered public schools and receive per-pupil state aid.

Horizon Science Academy will be a K-12 public school and will be required under state law to meet students' needs, including those with a disability.

Who is the management company that will oversee Horizon?

Concept Schools, an Illinois-based, nonprofit charter school management company, oversees 31 charter schools in urban areas including Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and St. Paul.

Concept Schools officials submitted the charter application on behalf of Horizon founders, which include Roger Brooks and Sunnie Richer, in November. The couple, who have backgrounds in business, have homes in Des Moines and Arizona.

Where will the Horizon charter school be located?

The charter will be within Des Moines Public Schools' district boundary, but a location has not been chosen.

Horizon officials have toured several warehouses and other buildings around the city, said Chris Murphy, Concept Schools' chief strategic growth and communications officer, during Thursday's Iowa Board of Education meeting.

Horizon is considering Franklin Junior High School, 4801 Franklin Ave., an events space and former school, in Des Moines, Murphy told the board.

Who is on Horizon Science Academy's governing board?

The governing board consists of former educators Carrie Bening and Sue Cronin; Jeff Goodman, an attorney; Christine Hensley, a former Des Moines City Council member; Kittie Weston-Knauer, a former school administrator; and San Wong, the Iowa Department of Human Rights director.

The school will open new opportunities for students of color, Weston-Knauer told the Des Moines Register after the Board of Education's vote. The school expects to draw its students from low-performing schools within DMPS with high minority and low-income enrollment.

"This is an opportunity for youth in Des Moines — particularly minorities and from underserved communities — to be able to receive the type of education that will see them, first of all, developing dreams," Weston-Knauer said, "(and) having those dreams fostered."

What is next for Horizon Science Academy?

The Board of Education is expected to approve the charter's contract at its February meeting.

Enrollment for the school is tentatively slated to open in February, Murphy said in an interview after the hearing.

If the number of students who apply exceeds the available spots, officials plan to hold a lottery or create a waitlist, he said.

Why is Horizon Science Academy focusing on STEM learning?

In its application, Horizon states that the demands of the nation's workforce demonstrate "an increased need for schools with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM."

"We believe that Horizon Science Academy Des Moines (HSADSM) will fill a great need in this community with our strong academic programs focused on STEM and college and career readiness."

How will Horizon Science Academy's teacher pay compare with Des Moines Public Schools?

Horizon said in its application that Des Moines Public Schools starts teachers with no experience at $44,000.

Horizon promised to start teachers at $50,000.

"The board is having discussions regarding salaries, may explore bonuses, and look at other financial incentives to hire the best teachers," the application states.

How many charter schools are in Iowa?

Iowa has four charter schools, including the new Hamburg Charter School and Choice Charter, an online school focused on credit recovery.

Storm Lake, Iowa Central, Buena Vista Early College Charter High School in Storm Lake and the Northeast Iowa Charter High School in Maynard all opened before the law change.

If the contract is approved, Horizon would be the first charter school in Des Moines since DMPS launched the Des Moines Public Charter School during the 2010-11 school year, according to a 2012 Iowa Department of Education report. That charter was revoked by the state in 2012 and closed in 2013.

How do charter schools fit into Gov. Kim Reynolds' plan for more 'school choice'?

Gov. Kim Reynolds has made it a priority to increase education options for parents, including pushing to expand charter schools and provide private school scholarships at taxpayer expense.

Reynolds and Republican lawmakers are making "school choice" bills a priority during the 2023 session. Democrats and public school advocates say the governor's plan will rob public education of resources and jeopardize rural schools.

Two previous attempts to pass bills with private school vouchers failed to gain traction.