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As Charter School Shuts Down, Democrats Want Faster Response

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 11:00 AM

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Another Ohio charter school shut down this week -- the first week of school for many Ohio students. The VLT Academy in Cincinnati is the 22nd community school to close this fiscal year. As Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, that's angering those who say they're trying to do something about failing charter schools -- but are being ignored.

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Democratic State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (Ohio Senate) Republican State Sen. Peggy Lehner (Ohio Senate)

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni is frustrated. The Democrat from Boardman, near Youngstown, says in the last two sessions of the General Assembly, he’s proposed three bills that he says would bring more accountability and transparency to Ohio’s charters schools. But none of those bills have gotten much attention—the last two haven’t even gotten a hearing.

He said he’s reached out to Senate Education Committee chair Peggy Lehner, a Republican of Kettering, who has said she supports the idea behind those bills.

“When we talked in the spring, she told me directly and point blank that this was going to be a project that we were going to work on over the summer and we were going to get back to it in the fall. But to hear nothing over the summer, with all the things that are going on, it’s troubling to me.” Schiavoni said. “So I think if you talk to legislators in the hallway, they’ll tell you that the issue needs to be addressed, but for one reason or another, it’s not being.”

Schiavoni said he’s written and called Lehner, but gotten no response.

But Lehner said she’s traveling out of the country for the last month. Lehner said that she supports taking a new look at charter school laws, and that she told Schiavoni she’s willing to work with him on the issue. But because there are a lot of what she called “vested interests” involved, Lehner said she’s convened a group of people she called “education thought leaders” - most are Democrats, she says—to look over the state’s charter school laws. And Lehner said there won’t be an attempt to change those laws now or in the lame duck session after the November election.

“I just don’t think that’s appropriate, and I think that invites more bad law, frankly,” Lehner said. “So I’m sort of looking at legislation to be introduced at the beginning of next year or whenever it’s ready and we’re just going to take our time and we’re going to do this right.”

Lehner admitted a skeptic might see this as an election year tactic—though she’s not on the ballot herself, half of her Senate colleagues are, as it the entire Ohio House. But Lehner said this issue is complicated and needs time to be done right.

“I just think that there’s too much at stake to be doing this in a way that is something that you can wave your flag at at election time,” she said. “I’m trying to remove it from the election process. Sure, we could come up with a model law right now that people could either support or fight as an election issue. I just think this deserves better than that.”

But Schiavoni says kids in failing charter schools don’t care about election year politics, and that time is ticking away for them.

“It’s not a political thing. I mean, if you have—think about a kid that’s about to go to school, and now he can’t go to school with his friends this year because the doors are closed and there are chains on the door,” he said. “I mean, that’s ridiculous to even think about. And so that’s why we’re here today, to really help protect Ohio’s children.”

Schiavoni says he supports the charters that do well, but notes that a study has shown 87 percent of the 120,000 students in the nearly 400 charter schools in Ohio are going to schools that received either Ds or Fs on their state report cards.

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