School choice has been a bone of contention for years in Ohio, but last week lawmakers took a huge step toward significant upgrades to the state's charter school laws.
Jim Siegel of The Columbus Dispatch says that charter school backers have taken no pride in the Ohio charter schools of late, and a national school choice advocate called the Ohio charters the "Wild, Wild West" of charter schools.
Poorly-performing schools have not been closed, taxpayer dollars have been mismanaged, and a number of conflict of interest issues have burdened charters and have led to a concern that Ohio's charter movement is harming the school choice movement and its potential to help many children.
But the new bill, HB 2, was created to establish clearer regulations, more accountability, and greater transparency for the charter system that is a $1 billion a year education entity which is educating more than 120,000 Ohio students. According to Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson), one of the main sponsors of the bill, it has "many common sense reforms."
Roegner added that although the bill is far from perfect, she feels there is now "a light at the end of a very long tunnel." Governor John Kasich says "it goes a long way towards ensuring that students in all schools have a chance to achieve their full potential." Democrats and one of the states' teachers unions were concerned about a provision that would require charter school employees to be in Social Security and not the state pension system, but lawmakers said that the issue will be investigated further.
Overall, the bill was met with strong support from both parties and from charter school advocates and opponents alike, reports Patrick O'Donnell of The Plain Dealer. Items which were adjusted or added to the final version of the bill included a rule that would keep private charter school operators from keeping equipment which had been bought with state tax money, a more cautious approach to coming up with a new way to rate schools, and adjustments to the way ratings of charter school oversight agencies are calculated.
Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins said, "We applaud state lawmakers for taking action at long last to improve the oversight and accountability of Ohio's charter schools. With the enactment of stronger laws, the burden will now fall on the Ohio Department of Education to make sure sponsors and operators of charter schools fulfill their mission and provide positive educational outcomes for Ohio's students."
Benjamin Postlethwait of WCPO-TV Cincinnati reports the bill will stop "sponsor-hopping," which is the problem of sponsors leaving failing schools, which allows the school to then bring in a more lenient sponsor. It will also require the Ohio Department of Education to create an annual performance report for charter schools and will curb the selling of goods or services to the schools they oversee.
Many students statewide attend online charter schools, which will also be affected by the bill. Josh Sweigart, writing for the Dayton Daily News, reports that the Ohio Department of Education released in a statement that:
"Ohio's state superintendent has been tough on charters over the past several years — working to keep bad authorizers from starting new schools — and these new reforms will give the Department of Education better tools to help ensure students have access to a high-quality education."