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Ohio passes legislation to reform problem-ridden charter schools

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The Ohio General Assembly passed a bill Oct. 7 to reform Ohio’s $1 billion charter school sector in an effort to increase academic performance among students and eliminate corruption among leadership.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas Fordham Institute, said the bill addressed the two main issues that have plagued charter schools in Ohio.

“On average, [charter schools] have underperformed traditional public schools from which the students came,” Aldis said. “The second problem is that there has been, over the years, a number of scandals and situations that have led to a waste of taxpayer dollars that are used to fund the schools.”

To address those problems, House Bill 2 will require charter school sponsors to be more transparent and accountable for their actions.

According to the bill, which was originally introduced in January to the Ohio House by Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, and Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, the Ohio Department of Education will annually rate the overall academic performance of charter school districts and individual schools on a letter-based system to ensure that the schools are in accordance with academic standards. Schools that do not meet standards will be closed.

To reduce the number of scandals, HB 2 makes changes to the charter school governing boards.

“(HB 2) has required all charter school board members to do conflict of interest statements every year to makes sure they don’t have other sorts of financial interests involved in the stake of the school,” Aldis said. “Secondly, it requires the charter school governing board to have independent attorneys when negotiating with their sponsor in terms of a contract or when they’re hiring or contracting with other entities. The charter school board is represented by an independent attorney, not someone that someone else is paying.”  

Aldis also said the governing boards need to have independent auditors and accountants in addition to a requirement that they produce their own annual budget.

“The more likely that decisions made about what the schools’ course of action will be and the long term success will be, the more likely the decision is to be independent and in the best interest of students,” Aldis said.

Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, and member of the House Education Committee, said the legislation brought much needed changes to the charter school system.

As the recent scandals at the Ohio Department of Education involving charter school oversight highlight, the charter industry has for too long run wild with taxpayers’ money while failing to deliver an adequate education to our children,” Fedor said in a press release. “These long overdue reforms will strengthen oversight and increase transparency.”

Although she said the reform is a necessary step in the right direction, she expressed concern about a last minute addition that would prevent newly hired charter school teachers from receiving state pensions if they work directly for charter school operators and not school districts.

“I remain deeply concerned about restrictions on the ability of newly hired teachers at charter schools to invest in the public retirement system,” Fedor said in her statement. “The majority has promised to address this outstanding issue in the immediate future, and I intend to hold them to their word.”

Aldis is not so worried; he said the change will have a very limited impact.

“That change has very limited applicability,” Aldis said. “It only applies to charter school teachers who are not employed by their school, but who are employed by a management company. That is a very small subset of teachers. Right now it is estimated that it may only apply to 600 charter school teachers in the entire state.”

The bill, which passed the Ohio Senate 32-0 and the House 92-6, sits on the desk of Governor John Kasich, awaiting his signature.

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