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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Charter schools in Ohio and Michigan sue feds over rules for multi-million grant program

[Diane Bondareff / Shutterstock]

More than 300 charter schools in Ohio are suing the U.S. Department of Education over what they say are unfair rules that were set up last month for a federal grant program.

Attorney Caleb Kruckenberg is working with the Fordham Institute, representing charters in Ohio and Michigan. He said the charters believe the new rules make it harder for them to get millions of dollars in federal grants.

“One of them is that the charter school has to serve a school district that's overcrowded. And if you know anything about charter schools, that's not what they're there for," Kruckenberg said. "They're there to provide an educational alternative to schools that aren't doing a good job for the students.”

When asked about the low grades on state report cards Ohio charters have almost universally received, Kruckenberg said they should be judged on that for grants, not on this rule.

Kruckenberg also said another rule that charters can't increase racial or socioeconomic isolation disadvantages charters in urban areas.

“It seems like the Department of Education doesn't really care about the grades or test scores or giving good educational opportunities," Kruckenberg said. "Instead, they're looking at all these other factors that are really designed to hurt schools that operate in predominantly urban areas."

Meanwhile, a Republican-backed bill proposed earlier this year would expand the state's EdChoice voucher program to allow K-12 public students in Ohio to attend private and charter schools with state dollars. The state's largest teachers' union, the Ohio Education Association, estimates that "backpack bill" could cost $1.2 billion in state dollars.

Another bipartisan bill proposed late last year would require all charter schools in Ohio be operated as nonprofits. It's the second attempt to pass this bill, which its sponsors say would bring more accountability and transparency to around 150 charters run by for-profit operators, which a report from an anti-charter school group showed spent 73% more on administrative costs per student than public schools do.

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