A step in the right direction is how some public school administrators are characterizing a new law aimed at reforming the charter school system in Ohio.
Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 2 into law the last weekend of October. The measure revises the manner in which the state regulates charter schools. The state has come under severe scrutiny in recent years after corruption, financial mismanagement and poor academic outcomes came to light in some charter schools.
“The charter school reform bill is an important step toward reining in the worst of the worst charter school providers,” said Paul A. Craft, superintendent of Delaware City Schools. “With that said, there is much more to be done.”
Andrew Miller, superintendent of Buckeye Valley Local Schools, echoed Craft’s sentiment and stated further that he hopes the state will follow through with the law’s proposal for closer supervision of the charter school system.
“There’s a high level of accountability in our public school systems, and I think that’s been a good thing,” said Miller. “Certainly, charter schools shouldn’t be exempt from that. From what I can see, the governor and the legislators obviously had noticed there were some issues, and they’re trying to address them. It seems to be a step in the right direction.”
The new law mandates in-depth financial and academic reporting by charter schools and management groups. Among other requirements, it prevents charter schools from changing sponsors to avoid being shut down and prohibits sponsors that receive poor marks from starting new schools.
Craft noted that the financial drain of supporting charter schools on the Delaware City Schools budget is significant, and cannot be justified by the performance of the schools to which DCS funds are directed.
“The Delaware City Schools each year sends over a million dollars in local funds to charter schools,” Craft said. “Last year, not a single one of those dollars went to a charter school that was doing better than DCS in overall performance as measured by the state. A system that continually directs local dollars to unaccountable, lower-performing schools will never be a system that drives the broad educational improvements that charter school advocates hoped to achieve when Ohio began this experiment.”
Miller said while he is not opposed to charter schools, he believes that any alternative to public education should be high quality.
“I think what would be important is that the choices that the kids have are good options,” Miller said. “If there’s a concern that their needs aren’t being met in the public setting, or they want different things with student achievement, that the options they have to go to are also high-caliber options. I’m for school choice as long the choices out there are good choices for kids.”
Officials with advocacy organization ProgressOhio said Friday that another step in the right direction for charter schools was the news that Richard A. Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, will resign his post. The Ohio Department of Education posted a press release on its website Friday announcing that Ross will retire, effective Dec. 31, after a little more than two years on the job.
“Key provisions of the new charter school reform law place an extraordinary amount of authority with the Ohio Department of Education,’’ said Sandy Theis, ProgressOhio executive director. “Dr. Ross’ history of protecting even the worst-performing charter schools had school reform leaders worried that he would try to undercut these hard-fought, bipartisan reforms.’’
In a statement from ProgressOhio, it was noted that the group has been advocating for Ross’ removal. The group collected more than 4,000 signatures on a petition urging Ohio state school board members to fire him.
“The state school board must conduct a national search for a new state superintendent and make sure the winning candidate is committed to real accountability,’’ Theis said. “Ohio has a few great charter schools. Now Ohio has an opportunity to have a lot more.’’
According to the ProgressOhio press release, during Ross’ tenure, “Ohio’s $1 billion charter school sector has become a national joke and was mocked at a national school choice conference earlier in the year. David Hansen, the man Ross tapped to oversee charter school accountability, was forced to resign earlier this year after getting caught manipulating school ratings to cover up for chronically failing online charter schools.”
In the wake of Hansen’s resignation and failure by the state to disclose his misconduct in a federal grant application, the U.S. Department of Education has placed a hold on a $71 million grant it recently awarded to Ohio. The state is required to provide proper assurances the money will be spent properly.
Andrew Carter can be reached at 740-413-0902 and on Twitter @AndrewCarterDG.