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Report Fuels Debate About Ohio's Method For Funding Charter Schools

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Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 1:45 PM

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A new report adds to the ongoing tension between publically funded, but privately operated charter schools and traditional public schools.

Innovation Ohio’s recent analysis shows that half of the money transferred from school districts to charter schools in the 2012-2013 school year went to charters with lower performance ratings on the state report card.

The report also finds that all of the money transferred to charters results in six percent less money for kids in traditional districts.

Stephen Dyer, a fellow with the left leaning think tank, says the report points to what he thinks is a fundamental flaw in the way that charter schools are funded.

“The problem is the funding that goes to the charter school is based on the amount it costs to educate the kid in the traditional public school," he says. "But charter schools don’t have to worry about busing, their teachers don’t make as much money, they don’t have union contracts—their costs just aren’t the same.”

Dyer says he looked at 6,000 instances money transferred to charter schools from their feeder districts, and he compared the performance ratings of the districts to the ratings of those charters. The report shows 84 percent of those transfers went from districts with better performance than the charter schools.

Dyer says one of his root concerns is where those charter schools spend the money.

"They’re really out spending traditional public schools on administration, and they pay a lot more for that," he says.

But Jesse Truett, interim director of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says the report paints an inaccurate picture of charters.

"Some of the higher administrative costs are due to a lower efficiency of scale," Truett says, since charter schools are much smaller than districts.  And he says that there are a lot of charter schools that are not tied to management companies like White Hat--a company that has been widely criticized for the way it manages state dollars.

Charter schools receive state aid per student, but most do not receive local tax dollars and largely have to rent or purchase their own school buildings.

Truett says he understands the concern about poor performing charters and says his organization wants fair accountability for those schools too.

"At the end of the day, there are 130,000 kids in charters and I don't think that's going to go away," he says.  "The better that charters serve our kids, then we can have better conversations about the right school choices for kids."

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