Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed has into law a slate of much-anticipated reforms meant to improve performance and accountability of charter schools.
House Bill 2 will improve oversight of the publicly-funded, privately-operated schools, some of which have suffered poor student performance and financial mismanagement, writes Randy Ludlow for The Columbus Dispatch.
Kasich said the bill would "profoundly benefit our children." Broad bipartisan support ensured the bill would pass, and in 90 days it will take effect. Ohio has approximately 120,000 students in charter schools and spends about $1 billion each year to support the alternative educational organizations.
Details of the new law include more public accountability from sponsors, the elimination of conflicts of interest in operations, and the creation of tools to address school problems. It will also prohibit sponsors of low-performing schools from opening new schools; tighten the rules surrounding poorly-performing schools shopping for new sponsors; and ensure that any property purchased with public monies remains the property of schools and not the school's operator or management company.
Charter schools in other states are thriving, but fiscal mismanagement and improper actions by staff at some Ohio charter schools have caused students in the schools to lag behind their traditional public school cohorts. The idea for charter schools was based on offering an alternative to public schools, especially those in academic adversity.
"While we are proud of Ohio's high-performing charter schools, there are too many that haven't been serving our kids with the quality they deserve," Kasich said in a written statement. "Making sure that our kids aren't stuck in failing schools has been a priority and this bill will profoundly benefit our children."
William Lager, an online charter school leader and head of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, contributed $91,726 during the summer to Republican candidates and lawmakers who were working on significant reforms of the state's charter schools. Jessie Balmert of Gannett says Lager was the largest single donor to the Senate Republicans, according to filings with the Ohio Secretary of State. Lager's company is Ohio's largest charter network with over 14,000 students, which is about 11% of all charter students in the state.
Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which sponsors several charter schools, said:
"Members in both parties get lots of campaign contributions from lots of people. I think leadership has been trying to focus on what they can do to improve the charter school sector."
In the summer, David Hansen, an Ohio education official, resigned after he excluded failing grades that would have lowered charter schools' performance on evaluations. Seven school board members, most of whom were Democrats, ordered an investigation that Republican Auditor Dave Yost and the governor disregarded. Kasich's presidential campaign manager Beth Hansen is married to David Hansen.
Republican lawmakers saw that a Senate change to the bill's content could have allowed state education officials to excuse charter schools from evaluation.
Stephen Dyer, an education policy fellow at progressive think tank Innovation Ohio and a former Democratic lawmaker, said he was wary of the fact that charter school donors seem to have a significant influence on legislators and the governor.