Charters & Choice

In today's Ohio Education Gadfly, Jamie, Bianca, and I explore what's missing from the debate around Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron mom who was jailed for nine days and convicted of tampering with documents in order to send her two children to a school outside their home district.

Many are calling it a ???Rosa Parks moment for education.??? Civil rights and political activists are pleading with the governor to pardon Williams-Bolar (and he has asked the Ohio Parole Board to review the case). Kevin Huffman noted in the Washington Post, ???She looked at her options, she looked at the law, she looked at her kids. And she made a choice.???

But did she really look at all of her options? Lost among the clarion calls for expanding school choice to help parents like Ms. Williams-Bolar are key questions. Besides falsifying documents to send her kids outside of Akron Public Schools, did Williams-Bolar have other options? If so, why didn't she use them?

In fact, Williams-Bolar did have legal school-choice options, more than most Ohio families, including:

Intra-district transfer. The Akron Public Schools allows students to attend a school other than their local neighborhood school provided a seat is available. There are several high-performing schools in Akron, one of which we featured in our Needles in a Haystack report last spring (King Elementary, which drew a hefty percentage of its students from outside its attendance zone), that her kids might have attended....

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Ohio's EdChoice Scholarship Program, a voucher program for students attending chronically underperforming schools, will begin to accept applications for the 2011-2012 school year tomorrow, February 1. EdChoice is a state-funded program that gives students who attend underperforming public schools a voucher worth up to $5,000 to go to a private school of their choice.

According to School Choice Ohio, which works to protect and expand children's educational options in the Buckeye State, 85,453 Ohio students are eligible to apply for the public voucher for the coming school year. However, because of a state-mandated cap on enrollment only 14,000 students are permitted to participate in the program.

To be eligible for one of the coveted vouchers students must attend one of the 197 schools rated academic watch (D) or academic emergency (F) by the state for two of the past three years.? During the 2010-2011 school year the voucher program almost reached the statutory cap of 14,000 students with just a little over 13,000 participating in the program.? Participation in the voucher program has steadily increased since its inception in 2006, and this year's participation will most likely be on the same path. Chad Aldis, Executive Director of School Choice Ohio urges families to ?to act quickly and enroll their children in this transformational program?.

To find out more about which schools are voucher eligible and the private schools participating in the program?check out School Choice Ohio's website.

-Bianca Speranza ...

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It's not a new sci-fi movie ? but it's a longstanding issue for charter schools: finding space ? that's not outer!

Last Tuesday, according to a Los Angeles Daily News story, via Ed Week, the Los Angeles Unified School District made what the DN said was ?an unprecedented? offer:? allowing 81 charter schools to have 25,000 classroom seats on district campuses.

So why do charter advocates call the LAUSD offer illegal?

As it turns out, California was ahead of the?game on the space issue and in 2000 voters passed Proposition 39, which requires districts to share available facilities with charter schools. And districts, not surprisingly, have danced around the law ever since. According to the DN, California charter advocates have sued LAUSD twice

for failing to comply with Proposition 39, which states that district facilities must be shared `fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools.'?

But even though the current proposal ?would be the largest offer ever made by LAUSD, which houses the largest concentration of charter campuses in the nation,? Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, tells the DN that at least 24 of the 81?charters were offered space at multipl?sites, not exactly a convenient deal and, says Wallace, a violation of Prop 39'.

On the East Coast, New York City has different co-location headaches.? A new law passed last May, to increase the state's Race to the Top chances, actually penalizes...

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Guest Blogger

It's National School Choice Week ? the first of its kind. And now, thanks to Gov. Kasich making it official, it's also Ohio School Choice Week.

Close to 1,000 Ohioans have attended events across the state this week to celebrate.

This week's Cap City event brought together legislators from both parties, education reform leaders from across the state, school principals, public school board members, and skeptics. Featured panelists included Ohio Representative Matt Huffman; Ohio Senator Kris Jordan; School Choice Ohio Executive Director Chad Aldis; Terry Ryan of the Fordham Institute, and others.

Terry highlighted Dayton, Fordham's hometown, as a place where a large percentage of district students have exerted choice and attend area charters, which are performing better academically than their district counterpart schools. Referencing Fordham's on-the-ground work, ?Our experience in Dayton is not a panacea; it's a tool? (Hannah News Service; subscription required).

The discussion, which centered on new ways to expand school options for families while keeping high standards of quality and accountability, was encouraging as Ohio heads into a tough year financially and will have to think innovatively about how best to serve students across the state.

Speaker of the Ohio House, Bill Batchelder, kicked off the event by recounting fondly his role as primary sponsor of the legislation that created the Cleveland voucher in 1995, a program that now serves more than 5,000 students. Now, as we celebrate 15 years of the Cleveland voucher, he vowed ?I'm still at...

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Referring to the Model T, Henry Ford famously said, ?A customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.? It turns out that Dr. Jerry Weast, the superintendent in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, feels the same way about school choice ? parents can send their kids to any school they want, as long as it's part of the traditional public school system (or you're wealthy enough to send your child to a private school):

So we look at things about school choice, and there's over 150 private schools in our community. And so there's choices for. [sic] And there's choices in our 200 [district] schools with their thematic approaches. So choice is something that's in abundant supply in Montgomery County.

The background is that the Montgomery County Board of Education recently denied two applications to start public charter schools in the county on Dr. Weast's recommendation. The State Board of Education yesterday overturned both those decisions, citing anti-charter bias, an arbitrary review process that broke the county's own rules, and a made-up standard of ?uniqueness? for new public charter schools.

The mess in Montgomery County cuts across a number of pressing issues in education reform. While the county is one of the wealthiest in the country, it has a stubborn and growing achievement gap by some measures. Complacency about good student achievement on average takes attention away from discussion about moving the...

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