Charter, Voucher Expansion

Gongwer News Service - August 15, 2011

Gongwer News Service

A new policy brief from nonpartisan research group Policy Matters Ohio reports that the charter and school-choice changes in the biennial budget (HB 153 ) do little to strengthen the quality of privately operated charter and voucher schools that are publicly funded.

“State lawmakers have missed yet another opportunity to adopt a high-standards approach for all schools,” Policy Matters Senior Researcher Piet van Lier said. “Instead, they’ve continued Ohio’s quantity-over-quality approach to charters and vouchers, an approach that has not served our children well.”

The group says the budget bill’s new accountability measures for charter school sponsors are too weak to have a significant impact and will likely target smaller sponsors that oversee fewer than 15% of the state’s charters, even though 45% of charters were rated in “academic watch” or “academic emergency” last year.

The bill expanded the number of districts where start-up charters can be created, and state law continues to allow “unchecked and unexamined” growth of charters in districts considered challenged, the brief says.

The new law also fails to add a requirement that sponsors or the Department of Education carefully evaluate schools and operators before they are approved, such as by imposing stricter criteria relating to operators’ academic track records.

“Because the legislature did nothing to raise the bar for entry into Ohio’s charter sector, it’s still too easy for deep-pocketed management companies, many of them for-profit, to open new charters,” Mr. van Lier said. “Profit-seeking operators or those unprepared for the challenges of running a school end up playing games of chance with the futures of too many Ohio children.”

Policy Matters said the quadrupling of Educational Choice vouchers available to let students in failing schools attend private ones with state funding covering tuition was done without a thorough evaluation of the existing program. (See separate story)

“Ohio has a reputation nationally as a state that puts too much faith in the free-market when it comes to charter and vouchers,” Mr. van Lier said. “This budget bill continues our state down this risky path. It’s not too late for policymakers to change course, but the trend is in the wrong direction.”

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