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November 02, 2009
Ohio's charter school program dodged a bullet this recent budget cycle (here). Both the state's governor and the House (controlled by Democrats) sought to set-back Ohio's charter school program big-time with many new and costly regulations (including banning for-profit operators from the state) and serious funding cuts for all schools, but especially for e-schools. Long-time Republican choice supporters in the Senate stayed true to their promise to protect charters, and purged the legislation of the most damaging proposals (here).
However, some common sense legislation for increasing charter accountability was put into the new law. Two items in particular are worth pointing out. First, Ohio has had an "academic death penalty" in place for persistently low-performing charter schools since 2006. Under this law two schools closed last school year and 23 others are in danger of closing this year.???? The state's budget ratcheted this death penalty up further and it now looks as if 35 or so schools (about ten percent of all charters in Ohio) are at risk of automatic closure when the state's report cards come out in late August.???? The national media has given much attention recently to California's efforts (here) to close persistently failing charters, but no state has stronger legislation on this front than Ohio now does.
Second, Ohio's new law requires all charter school sponsors to be accountable to the state department of education for their performance. Up until this time, the law had grandfathered many charter school sponsors from being accountable to the state department for their performance. Ohio has 73 active sponsors and only 17 of them (including the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation) had contracts with the Ohio Department of Education to perform these functions in an accountable way. The other 56 sponsors were accountable to the department on a voluntary basis.
In practice, this resulted in many school districts sponsoring charter schools in order to get access to $450,000 in federal start-up dollars. These schools, many of them digital schools, would close as soon as the federal start-up dollars dried up and these dollars did not go to operators the intended to open truly independent charter schools. The new law should stop such shenanigans in the future.
To the credit of Ohio's lawmakers, after a tough fight the state has actually strengthened its charter school law. This is a classic example of split government working.