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November 02, 2009
School-choice foes in the Buckeye State are getting smarter about the strategies they employ to undermine the choice movement.???? Since the birth of charters here in 1998 and vouchers in 2005, opponents--namely Democrats, teacher unions, and the education establishment--have fought a "districts = good, choice = bad" fight.???? But with Democrats, including the President, across the country embracing choice and some of the state's top districts????employing charter schools themselves, that fight can only take local choice opponents so far.???? Rather than accepting school choice as an important component to improving public education, they've now focused their efforts on driving a wedge in the choice movement itself.
We first saw this tactic during the state budget deliberation process last spring, when Ohio House Democrats proposed????different levels of funding for charter schools based on their affiliation with traditional school districts. Charters were pitted against charters in a way they hadn't been in previous budget battles, and the resulting fight wasn't pretty. For example, some school leaders of high performing charters in Cleveland associated with the district were shunned by other charter advocates who saw them as turncoats for urging closer district-charter collaboration at the expense of charters not authorized by school districts. While the House funding plot was ultimately foiled by Senate Republicans, relationships within the charter school community remain bruised.????To be fair, Ohio's charter school community has never marched together the way teacher unions and other education establishment organizations do, but there's no doubt that the budget deliberation left the charter sector more fractured than it otherwise would have been.
This week Ohio Democrats took another shot at dividing choice supporters by pitting private schools against charter schools.????House Bill 268 would deduct $700 in per-pupil funding each year from charter schools rated "D" or "F" by the state and put that money toward restoring private school funding that was????chopped in the budget (Ohio has historically provided funding to private schools for things like textbooks and instructional supplies, and school nurses, guidance counselors, and speech and hearing therapists). Meanwhile, the bill leaves intact state voucher funding, which flows to private schools regardless of their academic performance. Restoring private school funding is a laudable goal (Ohio has more than 800 private schools serving a significant portion of the state's children), but what is the benefit of taking that money directly from the pockets of struggling charter schools?
This voucher vs. charter battle was explored in????Fordham's panel discussion earlier this week. Gerard Robinson of the Black Alliance for Education Options argued that choice supporters can't afford to fight amongst ourselves about the type of choice and instead need to fight together for high-quality education options of all sorts for parents and children. ????I agree wholeheartedly, and I think most charter school leaders, private school leaders, and choice supporters in this state do, too.???? But when you have to fight tooth and nail for your mere existence, let alone more funding and autonomy, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture and only look out for number one.???? Smart choice foes have figured this out and are capitalizing on it.???? How will the choice movement respond, especially on the ground?