Comity in the House
In a rare show of admirable bi-partisanship and compromise, Ohio House members passed a $52 billion spending plan (Amend Sub. HB 119) with relative ease--even after several weeks of intense deliberation. (Not to mention hours of passionate testimony from parents, students and school leaders seeking to sway lawmakers on the issue of school choice.) Despite the initial gravel-banging scene at the bill’s first hearing, the House’s version sailed through the House Finance & Appropriations Committee Saturday night with a 31-0 vote, followed by a 97-0 vote on the House floor. The quick passage came as a shock to many who anticipated heated partisan bickering to dominate as the House deliberated on the first budget delivered by a Democratic Governor in nearly two decades. Major changes and additions to the governor’s bill include, among others:
- Replacing the governor’s proposed moratorium on new charter schools with language permitting new schools to open if they contract with an operator running schools rated in Continuous Improvement or better (the equivalent of a “C” rating) in Ohio or other states;
- Reinstating the EdChoice Scholarship Program (which had been eliminated by the Governor)--and adding a Special Education Scholarship Pilot Program, which would provide scholarships for disabled children in grades K-12 to attend alternative public or private special education programs in fiscal years 2008 through 2013;
- Increasing the amount of funding to be provided for the Early Childhood Education Program by another $2.4 million in FY 08 and $2.7 million in FY 09; and
- Broadening the eligibility for college student choice grants to include those students who have family incomes of $95,000 or less. Additionally, the bill increases the student choice grant appropriation to $38.5 million in each year.
Senators Seek More from Charter School Sponsors
As the Senate prepares for its budget deliberations, Senators Padgett, Schuring and Gardner are also pushing a bill to increase accountability for charter school sponsors. On the whole, there is much to like in Senate Bill 141 which proposes some smart and overdue changes in law. Most notably, it would make all sponsors directly accountable to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE)--regardless of whether they initially approved them for sponsorship. (Of the 69 charter school sponsors in Ohio, just 15 are directly accountable to ODE.) The bill would also grant ODE some much-needed authority to sanction sponsors for bad behavior by placing them on probationary status and suspending or even restricting their operations. These measures could help ensure that sponsors (the primary quality control agents of charter schools) are held accountable for quality outcomes.
A note of caution is warranted, however. SB 141 would also require sponsors to intervene in the operations of low-performing schools--a measure that seems to be part of a growing movement in Ohio for sponsors to police their struggling wards. Yet “intervention” and the more commonly used phrase “technical assistance” are ill-defined, and more exhortations to offer both could push sponsors into the dangerous waters of overseeing and operating schools (we’ve noted the serious conflicts of interest in doing both here). Senators Padgett, Schuring and Gardner are right to require stricter oversight of schools by their sponsors. Let’s hope they also advocate for greater clarity in how sponsors should deliver it.