Report details changes needed to improve Ohio’s charter schools

A report released this morning recommends several changes in state law and policies aimed at improving the performance of students attending tax-funded, privately operated charter schools.

“Past changes to Ohio’s community school law haven’t been able to rein in low-performing sponsors and schools, grow high-performing schools, rehabilitate the sector’s reputation, or provide enough disadvantaged students with the high-quality schools they deserve,” the report said.

“In order to preserve the promise of high-quality public school choice, Ohio policymakers must re-examine the community school law.”

The analysis, done by the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners in conjunction with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a pro-charter-school group pushing for improved governance and accountability of charter schools.

Ohio lawmakers are expected to debate such measures next year.

The report recommends: clearly defining the powers and responsibilities of charter-school authorizers, governing boards and management companies; eliminating the ability of such groups to gain financially at students’ expense; and boosting state aid to charter schools.

Some specific suggestions include:

Prohibiting a school authorizer – the entity that regulates a charter school – from selling its services to that school. Ensuring charter-school boards have final say on terminating a management contract. Under current law, management companies can terminate board members which critics say undermines efforts to hold the companies accountable. Allowing only schools in good standing to seek new sponsors. Currently, if a board decides to close a poor performing school, the operator simply finds a new sponsor. Holding online schools to charter-school operating standards. In addition, the report recommends boosting charter-school funding in several ways. It calls for locally generated tax revenues to follow a student to the charter school of their choice. Currently, state aid goes to charter schools. Charters also should get funding for facilities and transporation.

“This report does a good job of pointing out where Ohio’s governance of community schools doesn’t work,” said state Auditor Dave Yost. “We can do a lot of good for our kids by seriously considering many of these ideas and best practices. I hope they will be among the General Assembly’s priorities in its next session.”

Yost has audited many of the charter schools and found, “lax oversight by boards, conflicts of interest, improper spending and even criminal conduct by some rogue schools and operators,” according to a release.

Ohio lawmakers approved the creation of charter schools in 1997 and currently about 124,000 students – 7 percent of those statewide – attend 390 schools statewide.