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Legislators criticize charter school movement

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UntitledThe future of both Ohio K-12 and higher education played heavily into a discussion hosted at Ohio University’s Baker Center last Friday evening between OU students and state legislators.

State Rep. Debbie Phillips and Sen. Lou Gentile fielded a variety of questions on topics in educational reform; perhaps most notably in sharing their opinions on the increasing prevalence of state-funded, independently operated charter schools.

In recent years, clusters of these charters – formerly recognized as “Community Schools” – have been popping up all over the country as supposedly viable alternatives to public schools, especially in urban markets where districts are seeking creative remedies for plummeting academic success indicators in the public sphere.

Ohio boasts some of the largest charter enrolling market shares in the country, with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District educating 28 percent of its potential students in charter schools, good enough for the sixth highest rate in the nation. Districts in Dayton, Youngstown and Toledo also round out the top 10 nationally.

The problem for critics of the burgeoning movement, such as Gentile and Phillips, is not only its high cost and ever-the-more-apparent lack of results, but also the readiness with which some are willing to allocate public funds into independent, for-profit educational entities.

“I don’t think it should be a for-profit endeavor,” Gentile said at last week’s discussion. “The state has an obligation and a responsibility to make sure they are educating their citizenry, and I think that’s a fundamental difference between some of us in Columbus and how we view education.”

Phillips elaborated on her colleague’s comments by lamenting the system’s perceived inefficiency and lack of accountability.

“It’s just a different set of rules. It’s getting pretty poor results, and it’s drawing a lot of money,” Phillips said.

A study released by the interest group Innovation Ohio reaffirmed the posits of the two legislators; that charter schools were not only draining money from funds for public education, but were overall less effective than their publicly operated counterparts.

According to the data, more than 90 percent of funding for charter schools during the 2011-2012 school year went to institutions that on average performed worse than the same public schools that students had left for them.

Additionally, in the same year, over 40 percent of the state funding for charters was transferred out of traditional public entities that had performed higher on both the State Report Card and Performance Index.

The report goes on to condemn the findings and concludes by stating that “surely the funding of charter schools, which were created in the name of ‘choice,’ should not unfairly penalize children or parents who choose to remain in Ohio’s traditional public school system.”

Phillips later succinctly summed up their feelings on the matter by stating that “most of the charter schools in Ohio are just bad.”

The charter versus public debate continues to rage on in both the statehouse and in classrooms across Ohio as Democrats like Phillips and Gentile speak out against recent state budget provisions that have exacerbated the problem by clearing the way for further charter development.



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