Ohio's charter law remains a laggard

Ohio’s charter law remains mediocre despite numerous reform efforts over the last decade. According to the latest “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of the State Charter School Laws” produced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) the Buckeye State’s charter school law ranks 27 out of 43 states and the District of Columbia.

NAPCS ranks state laws based on two primary factors: 1) the freedoms and flexibilities state laws provide charter operators; and 2) the quality of accountability provisions for both charter school operators and authorizers. There are 20 Essential Components of the NAPCS rankings and these range from freedoms such as “No Caps on Charters,” “Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemptions,” and “Equitable Operational Funding” to accountability measures such as “Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability” and “Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal and Revocation Decisions.”

Ohio has made some progress – and this is reflected in the NAPCS state rating of Ohio inching up from #28 last year to #27 this year. But, other states are making progress faster. Big charter states, those that have at least 4.5% of their students enrolled in public charter schools, that have made steady progress and improvements to their laws in recent years include number one ranked Minnesota (with 4.7% of students in charters), number four Colorado (with 9.8% of students in charters), number five Florida (with 6.8% of students in charters), number six Louisiana (with 6.4% of students in charters) and number seven California (with 6.7% of students in charters).

These states are serving hundreds of thousands of students under state laws that are superior to Ohio’s in both allowing charter freedoms and ensuring charter performance. Louisiana, for example, jumped from #13 to #6 due to significant enhancements in its laws, such as strengthening the authorizing environment and increasing charter school autonomy. While South Carolina leapt from #25 to #12 because of improved laws related to better authorizing.

The NAPCS rankings make clear that Ohio’s lawmakers can do better by its 113,000 charter school students, while setting the conditions for better charter schools and opportunities for more kids in need of better schools in the future. Specifically, legislative leaders in Ohio can help promote charter school quality by crafting policies that ensure would-be school operators are carefully vetted in advance of opening; that all schools are thoroughly monitored by responsible authorities for their academic performance; and that poor performers exit the market in a timely fashion.

Failed schools should not be able to skirt academic accountability; whether they are traditional district schools, virtual charter schools or charter schools operated either by for-profit management companies or nonprofit ones. But, in return for performance, successful charters should receive equitable funding. Charters in Ohio, on average, receive about $2,200 less funding per pupil than traditional district schools. This disparity is due in large part to charter schools’ lack of access to local revenues and facilities funding. Successful charters should also be able to replicate their successes through innovations like multi-school charter contracts and multi-charter contract boards. If, for example, a high quality charter school board can successfully oversee ten or even 15 great charters in a city there should be no laws preventing this from happening, but there currently is in the Buckeye State.

The states with the best charter schools also have the strongest charter school laws. According to Nina Rees, President and CEO of NAPCS, the national charter school association release their annual rankings so they “can be used by charter school supporters to help them push for laws that support the creation of high-quality public charter schools, particularly those students most in need of a better school option.” Ohio can and should learn from other states when it comes to improving charter school policies and NAPCS makes this easy to do with their rankings and model law. It is smart policy to build on the lessons of higher-performing charter states.

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