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Pushing for Charter School Expansion

Tuesday, December 19, 2006 at 10:44 AM

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Republicans in Columbus are working quickly to push through last-minute amendments favorable to expanding charter schools in Ohio. Charters schools - or community schools, as they're sometimes referred to - are funded with public dollars, but are subject to less oversight than traditional public schools. Democrats fear the amendments could make it harder for Governor-Elect Ted Strickland to keep his campaign promise to bring more accountability to the charter school system. ideastream's Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports.

A number of Democrats in the General Assembly say they’ll resist any expansion of Ohio’s Charter Schools until the current system is brought under control. Senator Teresa Fedor, ranking minority leader on the Senate Education Committee, says the way the charter system is set up prevents taxpayers from knowing how their money is being spent.

Teresa Fedor: They haven’t produced any results. They don’t have a system of accountability with checks and balances. It’s not public. You can’t follow any public dollar through the privatization of a management company.

Out of Ohio’s almost 300 charter schools, 127 are labeled in academic watch or academic emergency by the Ohio Board of Education. But Jamie Callender, a former Ohio Representative and advocate for the Charter School movement, says despite this fact over half of Ohio’s charters are doing good work, sometimes even better than the state’s big urban systems.

Jamie Callender: Charters are starting to outperform the traditional publics in many districts - Dayton and Cleveland being two of them. So if you’re going to argue you need to shut down the charter schools, you need to shut down the big urbans as well.

In recent days, Callender, working for the Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers, has lobbied legislators to support proposals he says would bring more accountably to the system. For instance, he’d like to prevent private management companies who run failing charter schools from switching to a more lenient sponsor, if their current one threatens to shut them down.

Jamie Callender: And we really are trying to stop that from occurring, by saying any school that is under probation or under notice to suspend, would not be allowed to change sponsors.

At the same time, Callender says an organization sponsoring successful schools should allowed to open more. So he’d like to see a current cap on sponsors eased. And he’s proposed several other measures to encourage the expansion of charter schools: such as providing state loans for new buildings and state-funded transportation for students, and allowing the creation of charter schools in any district that fails to meet federal improvement benchmarks.

Jamie Callender: If I had my way, we would be able to open a lot more charter schools in district than we are.

Finally, Callender wants to separate charter school funding from school district budgets - that is, stop tallying state dollars that districts would get if students opted to stay in traditional schools. He says districts never see that money, and the practice misrepresents the funding process. But to Superintendent Brian Dietch of Fairview Park schools, removing that number keeps school administrators and taxpayers from understanding the full picture.

Brian Dietch: It’s starting to get some traction with people that charter schools are siphoning off money from their public schools and its created a trail they can follow.

Callender says if his proposals don’t pass in this session he’ll continue working on them with the new Governor and Legislature. But Teresa Fedor, who will become Senate Minority Whip in January, says Callender will find a different environment with Ted Strickland as Governor.

Teresa Fedor: Ted Strickland will take my lead, believe me. There will be no Jamie Callender influence with Ted Strickland.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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