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Ohio HOR introduces bill to change charter school funding

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An education bill currently being considered by the Ohio House could clear up some controversy surrounding charter schools and their funding.

House Bill 2,  a piece of legislation that was introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, and Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, details proposed changes in how community and charter schools are funded as well as how their progress and standards are measured.

Charter schools are unique because, like public school districts, they receive government funding from tax dollars but are often privately owned and receive additional funding from sponsors. According to William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, this has left them in a largely unregulated state since charter schools became legal in Ohio in 1997.

“The legislature was absolutely wrong in allowing these schools to operate unregulated,” Phillis said. “That just invites corruption. It invites poor performance. It invites people getting into the business to make money rather than to educate kids.”

Government funding is a controversial topic concerning Ohio’s charter schools. Charter schools are funded partially by deductions from public school districts, Phillis said.

With a combination of state and local funding, Phillis said public school districts now receive proportionally less than charter schools.

“When you put it all together, school districts receive about $4,000 per pupil from the state and charter schools are getting in the range of $7,500,” Phillis said.

However, not all of this funding is going directly into the classroom. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the largest charter school in Ohio, spent more than $2.27 million on advertising in tax dollars alone last year.

According to its website, “ECOT provides an outstanding educational experience online to Ohio students from the comfort and safety of their own homes.” But ECOT and other so-called “e-schools” in Ohio are outranked academically by Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest school district.

ECOT met only 12.5 percent of state test standards and was in the lowest 20 percent in achievement for the state during the 2012-13 school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s School Report Card database, which assigns “grades” to Ohio school districts based on data such as test scores and graduation rates. Overall, ECOT received an F in every category but one.

In addition to H.B. 2, Gov. Kasich included charter school regulations in his 2016-2017 budget proposal. The budget’s new regulations for charter schools require the ODE to “approve all charter school sponsors according to strict criteria and clamp down on failing sponsors.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative organization analyzing education policy in Ohio and nationally, believes these proposed changes will be beneficial. “By ensuring proper oversight of Ohio charter school sponsors and aligning incentives with performance, Gov. Kasich is placing Ohio’s charter sector on a new and better path,” saidChad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at Fordham.

Critics of charter schools are less sure that the changes proposed by the legislature or the government will be effective.

“The governor and a lot of legislators get a lot of campaign contributions from these charter schools,” Phillis said. “We’ve got a lot of schools that don’t have adequate technology, and yet they’re sucking money out of school districts to line people’s pockets. It’s as bad as the mafia, except it’s legal.”

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