After the passage of a new law designed to shut down failing schools, several Ohio charter school sponsors are breaking ties with the schools they agreed upon overseeing. Charter schools – privately run with public dollars – cannot operate in the state without a sponsor.
The Ohio Department of Education reports that 11 charter schools have already lost the support of their sponsors. The schools have been looking since January for replacement sponsors, but they have so far found none. These schools have until June 30 to find a new sponsor; if they do not, they will close down.
According to Patrick O'Donnell of Cleveland.com, six of these 11 schools asked the Ohio Department of Education to sponsor them, but the state has rejected all six. Among the soon to be closed schools were the Cleveland-based Virtual Schoolhouse and, as detailed by The Blade, OAK Leadership Institute.
The House Bill 2 charter reform law blocks schools dropped by a sponsor from signing with another because of poor academic results. This feature of the bill is to curb what is known as "sponsor hopping," a tendency for low-performing schools to bounce from one overseer to the next as soon as one starts cracking down and demanding higher standards. This is the first year that the Department of Education can reject applicants for sponsorship from schools with poor academic track records.
Supporters of the new law have been pleased with its effects. "It's working as we intended for it to," said State Sen. Peggy Lehner, a co-sponsor of the House Bill 2. Additionally, state school board President Tom Gunlock, an avid supporter of charter schools, has expressed his satisfaction with the bill, saying that the law requires charter schools to perform or else lose their privilege to stay open.
In addition to the 11 schools that have lost sponsorship, another eight charter schools have already closed voluntarily. It is unclear how many of these schools were in jeopardy of losing their sponsorship, but they preemptively closed their doors before state intervention.
Interestingly, the number of charter schools closing is not increasing over any other year. The potentially 19 closures is far fewer than the 30 charter schools that closed in 2015 and lower than the 27 that closed in 2014. The lack of recourse for struggling schools this year is what distinguishes their closures.
The state, to the satisfaction of many, is finally making an effort to subject charter schools to penalties, including shutting them down if they rate poorly. A major factor in determining the quality of a charter school are students' standardized test performances. "It's really important that schools get really busy about improving their scores, or we're going to see more of this happen," Senator Lehner said.
According to Catherine Candisky, Ohio's charter school system spends about $1 billion annually on more than 120,000 students who attend 374 charter schools. The new law reportedly bans questionable practices like conflicts-of-interest between business relations and charter school sponsors, and requires charter operators to provide more details about how they spend taxpayers' dollars.