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Lawmakers' experiments in education are flawed



Published: Mon, July 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Charter schools were billed by the legislature as an "experiment" in improving public education in Ohio when the General Assembly started pushing them a decade ago. About the same time, tuition vouchers that would allow public school students to transfer to private (largely parochial) schools in Cleveland were also sold as an experiment.

The funny thing about the General Assembly, when it experiments in education, it doesn't wait for the results to come in before expanding its experiments, taking more and more money from public school districts and shifting it to charter or voucher programs.

As Jerry Seinfeld might ask, "What part of the experiment don't these legislators understand?"

The first traffic light was an experiment. If it had not worked, we wouldn't have millions of traffic lights today.

Since vouchers debuted in 1996, they have become entrenched in Cleveland. Initially designed to support 1,500 students, the program now includes more than three times that many. The recently passed state budget will expand vouchers again by a factor of three -- and install them in other troubled school districts in the state.

This happened despite an ongoing study of the Cleveland program that found relatively little difference between the achievement of students attending private schools on vouchers and that of their public school counterparts.

Frankly, we still don't understand how the U.S. Supreme Court could find in 2002 that funneling millions of tax dollars to parochial schools in Cleveland did not break the wall of separation that is supposed to exist between church and state. More than 90 percent of the money went to Catholic schools.

Proud history

Catholic schools have historically been a strong and rightfully proud educational force in the United States. But they have also historically been supported by the parents of the students attending those schools, the parishes that sponsored them and the dioceses in which they were located.

If that system is breaking down, it should not be the job of state government to shore it up. Taxpayers who ascribe to various religions -- or to no religion at all -- should not be financing religious schools. Even if the Supreme Court has said it's OK.

We suggest that the justices used the same logic that members of the General Assembly did in expanding the voucher program -- that is, no logic at all. They knew what they wanted to do or say and they went ahead and did it.

As for charter schools, not only is there no statistical record to show that they are more successful than public schools, the charters schools have been woefully under-regulated.

There is no explaining why the Toledo-based Lucas County Educational Service Center should be handing out charters to 112 schools throughout the state. Now we learn that 78 of those schools were opened illegally because the board didn't even involve itself in the process. It gave Superintendent Tom Baker the right to authorize new schools without a board vote.

And every time Baker opened one of those schools, a public school district lost millions of dollars in state funds that were channeled from its budget to that of the charter school.

There was a day when that would have been considered scandalous. Today, it's just business as usual.




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