Report: Some Ohio Charter Schools Skirting Closure Law
PHOTO: Ohio's charter school law may be tough, but a recent report examines the ways failing charter school operators are managing to evade it and keep their doors open.
March 6, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio - A recent report is fueling the debate over funding for charter schools in Ohio.
State law requires automatic closure of charter schools that are lagging academically, but loopholes have allowed operators to keep some failing schools open. The research from Policy Matters Ohio found seven of 20 schools on the state's closure list still are operating - some under different names, but with the same staff.
Report co-author Piet van Lier said many of these schools are doing no better than before they were ordered to close.
"There is a reason that these schools were shut down or told to shut down," he said. "It was because they were not performing well, academically. Their students weren't getting the education they need to get - and that, unfortunately, continues to be the case in most of these schools."
Van Lier said an eighth school on the list avoided the mandatory closure by shutting down a year early, but is now open again. He said he thinks legislators should revamp the closure law and strengthen the Ohio Department of Education's capacity to oversee charter schools.
The state has favored a "quantity over quality" approach with charter schools, Van Lier said. In his view, the operators need to be held accountable for the academic performance of their schools.
"New schools that are starting up need to show what they are doing, that they are using a model that will work, that they are really embedded in the community and can be held accountable," he said. "That's really the basic piece that's missing in Ohio charter school law."
According to the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools, the report raises good questions. In 2011, Ohio passed legislation that prevents certain sponsors from reopening bad schools, but there are no guidelines to determine the amount of changes needed to constitute a “new” school such as a percentage of staff turnover, different curricular, or location.
Charter schools continue to collect millions of dollars in public funds, Van Lier said, so it's critical to know how the money is being used - and whether it's funding schools that are failing to educate students to the state standards.
"If we're allowing these schools to continue and new schools to open up, we need to be very aware of the kind of funding that's going to those schools and how it's being used," he said. "And if it's being used for schools that fail academically, that's a pretty poor use of funds, especially in tight budget times."
During the past decade, he said, funding for charter schools has increased faster than enrollment.
Gov. John Kasich recently proposed a new system that expands charter school funding by giving schools different amounts of state money, depending on each student's home district. Details have not been released.
The report is online at policymattersohio.org.