5 Reasons Charters Schools Need Real Reform

A recent Gongwer report serves to highlight the influence the charter school sector still holds over the Legislature, dominated by law makers who have taken political contributions from charter operators for almost 2 decades. In recent weeks it has become apparent that the Charter school lobby has been on a full court press, hiring the likes of former staffers for GOP House Speaker Batchelder to lobby law makers, and crisis communications companies like the one ran by Mark Weaver, a former high level GOP staffer.

The chair of the House Education Committee said Wednesday he is open to expediting the closure of failing charters, but also thinks failing traditional public schools ought to be addressed.

The comments from Rep. Bill Hayes (R-Harrison Twp.) followed testimony from the Ohio Education Association on charter overhaul legislation (HB 2*), which garnered additional support and has yet to draw an opponent.

Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins said the measure is a starting point for strengthening charter laws. She outlined three principles that OEA and Innovation Ohio had laid out Tuesday as necessary for overhauling the community school sector. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, February 17, 2015)

She called for the accelerated closing of failing charters; making them subject to the same public records laws as other public entities; and a charter funding model that does not penalize district schools.

Chairman Hayes said after the meeting he would support faster closure if the state can identify when a school is definitely failing.

"But I'm also interested in...what are we doing about (district schools). Are we doing the same thing there?"

The effort to find equivalency between the crisis in the Ohio charter school sector and traditional public schools as a means to distract people from meaningful reforms has been a talking point promulgated by charter boosters since reform became a very real proposition. Parents, tax payers and law makers would be wise to ignore these efforts to distract from meaningful reform for a number of reasons.

1. There is no equivalency

Charter schools receive substantially more state aid than traditional schools, while being exempt from over 150 laws that traditional schools are subject to - all while picking and choosing their own students.

2. Measures to address struggling traditional schools have been taken

In 2012 we have the Cleveland plan to address Cleveland City Schools. In 2013 we had the Columbus Plan to address Columbus City Schools. Now, in 2014 we need a Charter School plan to address Ohio's charter school sector.

3. Ohio's Charter Schools are MUCH worse than Traditional Schools

According to the latest performance data from ODE, 80% of Ohio's Charter schools are failing - scoring a D or F on their performance Index score. Meanwhile, over 80% of traditional school buildings are rated C or higher. There simply is no quality equivalence here. Talk of such is nonsense designed to distract from necessary and meaningful reforms.

4. Ohio's Charter Schools are a criminal enterprise

Charter schools in Ohio have felons sitting on their unaccountable boards, and executives going to jail for theft and fraud on a constant basis. These are situations that simply do not exist in traditional public schools. There is no equivalency.

5. Ohio's Charter Schools have shady financial practices

Traditional public schools do not spend the majority of their revenues on rent, unlike a large number of charter operators, who are paying excessive rent to shell companies they control. Nor do Traditional public schools make profits so that the administrators can buy lavish Florida vacation homes, nor do traditional public schools spend money on trips to Turkey to further political causes. There is simply no equivalency to be had here.

Given just how much failure and fraud has been uncovered and reported, the days of giving the benefit of the doubt should be over. Anything less than directly addressing these very real problems is a failure on all our parts to protect the students who attend these schools and the tax payers who are paying for them.

Law makers need to ignore the rhetoric of the charter school lobby and deliver real meaningful reform that will banish the charlatans and incompetents from the Ohio educational landscape forever.