Quarter of Youngstown's students attend charter school

By Denise Dick



A quarter of the students living within the city school district attend public charter schools.

That puts the district in the top eight public school districts nationally for percentage of students attending public charter schools, according to the seventh annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, based in Washington, D.C.

It lists the district’s total enrollment at 10,183 with 2,528 attending charter schools.

New Orleans Public Schools see the highest percentage of students attending charters with 76 percent, according to the report.

Three other Ohio districts also made the Top 10 list: Cleveland at 28 percent, Dayton at 26 percent and Toledo at 25 percent.

The figures don’t surprise Lock P. Beachum Sr., city school-board president.

“Schools are a business,” he said. “You have to show the public that you have the best product and continue to improve or they will look elsewhere.”

Youngstown loses about $21 million annually as students who live in the district attend charter schools — taking state money with them.

The charter schools report, which examined data for the 2011-12 school year, says that the city district increased from the previous year when 24 percent of its students attended charter schools.

Ron Iarussi, superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, said Ohio’s stance on school choice may be at least part of the reason the state has so many districts with high percentages of students leaving for charter schools.

“I think Ohio has adopted a pro-school-choice attitude, both politically and socially; that has a lot to do with it,” he said. “There’s a general public sentiment that school choice is not a bad idea for students.”

The issue that a lot of people have with charter schools, though, is the funding.

The state’s per-pupil contribution is higher for charters than for the public schools they leave, public-school advocates have said.

Nationally, 110 districts have at least 10 percent of their districts enrolled in public charter schools; 25 school districts have more than 20 percent of their students enrolled in charters; and seven districts enroll at least 30 percent of their students in charter schools, the report found.

“The increase in public charter-school enrollment in all types of communities across America shows that parent demand for school options continues to grow. These numbers will continue to rise as teachers and parents work together to provide high-quality options in communities across America,” Nina S. Rees, president and CEO of the NAPCS, said in a news release.

Beachum said the city schools have to work to eliminate the negative perception of the schools. He pointed out that some of the charter schools that students leave the district to attend are rated worse than the city schools — so he reasons that a negative perception must be to blame.

With changes made in the past couple of years — converting Chaney to a visual and performing arts and science, technology, engineering and mathematics school, for example — he believes that negative image is changing.

Schools are improving, but if parents aren’t happy with the district school their children attend, he suggests they get involved.

He attributed at least some of the progress made by individual schools that saw increased test scores to parental participation.

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