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New Legislation On Charter Schools

Bill Rice: Denny Woods, Superintendent of Bay Village Schools and President of the Ohio School Boards association, was feeling pretty good three weeks ago. That was when he and several dozen colleagues listened as Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Gardner outlined major changes to House Bill 364. Before the changes, the House measure allowed for the expansion of charter schools in Ohio.

Denny Woods: Everybody in the education community was against the expansion of these charter schools, and the original bill went from 195 up to 225. No one could understand when you have all these fiscal problems why would you on one hand expand something that you know is not working fiscally.

BR: But the new bill proposed by Gardner sounded pretty good to Woods…

DW: ...either a moratorium or elimination of the expansion provision for at least two years.

BR: That, plus a requirement that a charter school sponsor be a bona-fide non-profit organization to ensure that profit motives be kept out of running what are essentially public schools. And there was a third change Wood's liked: that future charter schools be restricted to urban areas already designated for them, as well as districts in academic emergency status.

DW: All in all it was very good news about a very controversial piece of proposed legislation that would impact the community.

BR: It turns out Woods' optimism was premature. On the moratorium, Gardner says he misspoke, that what he referred to as a moratorium was actually a cap - one that would still allow about 100 new charter schools to open over the next two years. And the non-profit provision has been rolled back, although Gardner says the measure does still address concerns over profiteering. Several other senate proposed changes have also disappeared or been modified. But Gardner says many of the bill's original provisions will go a long way toward preventing some of the more glaring problems - like the financial mismanagement that's led to several highly publicized charter school failures.

Robert Gardner: We put a lot of fiscal responsibility in there, we also put some accountability in there for the treasurer, we beefed up the amount of hours a treasurer has to have if they're not a certified treasurer or a CPA then they have to have additional training. We also said the sponsoring agency had to do a review every two months, so those are the types of fiscal safeguards, and those are all in there.

BR: And, Gardner says, the bill puts important new restrictions on a relatively new development - so-called e-schools, which teach kids in their homes over the internet.

RG: There was no mention of any kind of rules and regulations in place for electronic schools, and we have rules for electronic schools that weren't even addressed in H.B. 364 when it came over.

BR: Gardner has been negotiating these details with State Representative Jon Husted, sponsor of the original house bill. He says while Husted has rejected some of the main tenets of the proposed senate changes, the bill as it now stands is satisfactory.

RG: As a compromise bill I'm satisfied. Is it exactly what I believe my members in my senate committee wanted to see? No. But this bill is definitely a better bill than what came over from the house.

BR: Today, OSBA President Denny Woods says he's disappointed. He says the measure does nothing to quell his fundamental objection to charter schools - that they siphon money from financially strapped local school districts. And, he says, lawmakers should put the brakes on charter schools until it can be shown that they truly benefit school kids.

DW: We've been doing this experiment for four years, and now we're going to put in fiscal controls? Why the heck didn't we put the fiscal controls in when the program was initiated? And then we get the fiscal controls, and we automatically expand. It defies logic, from my perspective.

BR: Governor Taft's office says he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.