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Study: Charter schools must be accountable



Published: Fri, October 27, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The system needs a better method of checks and balances, the report says.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A day after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state can create and fund charter schools even if they aren't subject to the same reporting requirements as traditional schools, a new study says Ohio charter schools need to be more accountable.

The Ohio Collaborative, a group of about 150 faculty members from Ohio colleges and universities that does policy research on state education issues, released a report Thursday calling for a new system of public authorizers to monitor public charter school boards.

The rapid growth of charter schools (from 15 in 1998 to 294 today), along with a lack of oversight and lack of accessible information regarding these schools remains a cause for concern, said Ann Allen, co-author of the report and an assistant professor of education at Ohio State University.

Ohio teachers unions and school districts have been generally critical of charter schools, both in terms of taking money away from the districts and in their performances on state standardized achievement tests.

Ohio's charter school program directs that state subsidy money follow the pupils to the school they attend.

Youngstown city schools alone report losing about $20 million a year to charter schools that now house city school children.

A state-requested examination of charter school operations in Ohio released earlier this month said that top-performing charter schools should get a break on state reporting and compliance requirements.

That study, done by charter school advocates, also called for, among other things, increased funding of charter schools and the lifting of the cap on the number of new schools each year. It also said that poorly performing charter schools should be closed.

The Ohio Collaborative report says that Ohio is spending about $425 million a year on public charter schools but that those schools don't have the level of oversight that is necessary.

"These charter schools use public dollars and should have the same responsibility for serving public interests as our district schools," Allen said.

In many cases, they don't have public meetings of their board or the meetings aren't sufficiently publicized, she said. Often, they don't complete reports that would let parents and taxpayers know how well they are educating pupils and how they are using their public dollars, she said.

Criticisms of charter schools

The Coalition for Public Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, a statewide teachers union, have charged in the past that some of the larger charter school operators with numerous schools have overlapping boards and the schools aren't truly independent as required by state law.

Some of those operators have replied publicly that their boards are independent and that their schools do file the required state financial and academic reports.

But The Ohio Collaborative report said that the charter schools aren't all reporting their data to the state and that the state doesn't have a way to enforce compliance with legal reporting obligations.

The best way to remedy that would be to require charter schools to have a public, rather than a private, sponsor, such as a school district, the report said.

Currently, 115 of the 294 charter schools are sponsored by private entities, the report said.

Charter schools should also have "public authorizers" whose job would be to monitor the schools to provide effective oversight, according to the report.

The collaborative further recommends that the state establish criteria for charter school boards that include expectations of diverse representation and that those board members should attend training that ensures they have an understanding of their public responsibilities.

gwin@vindy.com




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