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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.

Ohio lawmakers try again to make all charter schools operate as nonprofits

 A classroom of students in a charter school [Diane Bondareff / Shutterstock]
A classroom of students in a charter school

A bipartisan bill to require all charter schools in Ohio be operated as non-profits has been introduced again.

That could affect around 150 of the state’s 313 charter schools that are now run by for-profit operators.

The bill says all charter school operators would be nonprofit by 2023, and they’d be audited like public schools are and their books would be public records. Rep. Jeffrey Crossman (D-Parma) said eliminating the profit motive will allow money to go into student education.

“It's up to us to remind folks that we still have this glaring hole in public accountability over our charter school system that takes on millions of dollars every year from our public tax dollars and redirects it away from our current public school system," Crossman said.

The bill was first proposed in March 2020, right before the pandemic hit. It was sponsored by Crossman and Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), who are both sponsoring it again this time.

In 2018, the state's largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) closed, but court battles continued over $60 million in state overpayments for students who were enrolled but not participating. The Ohio Supreme Court closed the ECOT case this month with a decision that said the school can't challenge that repayment order because it's "final".

"I think eliminating the profit motive from charter schools, which this bill would do, and also increasing the transparency for how these schools spend our tax dollars would prevent the type of abuse and corruption that Ohio has seen with schools like ECOT," Crossman said. "ECOT defrauded taxpayers and they continue to fight to keep the millions of dollars to be stolen from taxpayers. So I think there should be an urgency."

For years, charter schools have scored lower grades on state report cards than public schools. But the pro-charter Fordham Institute notes a report last year showed many charter school students outperformed students in public schools.

"Both traditional public schools and public charter schools regularly contract with for profit companies for a huge array of services. We should demand transparency around those contracts, but at the end of the day, our focus must continue to be on student outcomes," said Chad Aldis with Fordham.

But another study, this from an anti-charter school group, has shown for-profit operators spend 73% more on administrative costs per student than public schools do. It was conducted by the Ohio Charter School Accountability Project, an arm of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank which has been critical of charter schools. It says charter schools run by for-profit entities spend $1,167 more per pupil than public school districts on non-instructional administrative costs – that’s 73% more money per pupil spent outside the classroom.

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