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Charter schools fail to make grade

Published: Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Janetta King

Special to The Vindicator

When charter schools burst on Ohio’s education scene about 15 years ago, proponents claimed they could educate at-risk kids better — and more cheaply — than traditional public schools.

A decade and a half later, the reality is quite different. Charters cost the state more than twice as much per pupil as traditional public schools. And with a handful of exceptions, their academic performance actually is worse.

Moreover, the “deduction system” Ohio currently uses to fund charters (in which charter money is “deducted” from the total amount allocated to each school district) not only results in charters receiving more money than they actually spend, but also in traditional school children (who still comprise 90 percent of Ohio’s school population) receiving, on average, 6.5 percent less funding than the state itself says they need and are entitled to receive.

On top of that, most of the money being transferred to charters is going to schools whose student performance scores are worse than the school districts from which the money and students came.

Clearly, reform is in order. And since Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature now are developing a new school funding system as part of the 2014-15 state budget, there couldn’t be a more propitious time.

Innovation Ohio, the progressive think tank of which I am president, believes at least three fixes are needed. You can read our full report at www.innovationohio.org

First, charter funding should not be based, as it currently is, on the amount needed to educate a child in a traditional school. Instead, it should be based on what the charters themselves actually spend. Charters pay teachers far less than traditional schools ($34,714 vs. $57,310, on average); have no student transportation expenses (school districts are required to pay busing costs for all district children, regardless of what school they attend); and have far lower regulatory compliance costs (since they are exempt from roughly 270 different state regulations that apply to traditional schools).

Financially penalized

Second, the governor and legislators must ensure that charter school funding does not come at the expense of traditional school children. Surely everyone should be able to agree that the 90 percent of Ohio children who choose to remain in traditional schools should not be financially penalized — or receive less state money than the state itself says they need — in order to overfund charter schools which educate just 10 percent of our kids.

Third, it is long past time for policymakers to hold charters to the same level of academic accountability they demand of traditional schools.

Yes, there are a few charters that perform well. But they are a distinct minority; only about two dozen out of the nearly 300 charters rated by the state Department of Education score above the state average on performance measures.

Moreover, failing charters are notoriously difficult to close; the process typically takes five to six years, and schools the state finally manages to shutter often just reopen a short time later under a different name.

Even charters that aren’t “failing” often perform far worse than traditional schools, but nonetheless keep raking in taxpayer money. In the 2011-12 school year, for example, more than 90 percent of state money going to charters went to schools that rated, on average, 18 points lower on the state’s Performance Index score than the traditional schools from whence the students and money came.

Slick advertising

Charter school boosters never tire of extolling “school choice” for parents and students. But how many parents — whose “choice” is often swayed by the slick and misleading television advertising of charter school operators — know that most kids transfer to charter schools whose performance is worse than the traditional schools they left?

Nothing is more important for Ohio’s future than education. Neither our children nor our state can prosper in the highly competitive world of tomorrow unless we build a world-class educational system today. Doing so will require innovation. It will mean being open to new ideas and being receptive to new approaches. Charter schools can be a healthy addition to Ohio’s K-12 mix. But they can never supplant the traditional public schools that are not only enshrined in our Constitution, but will forever remain the backbone of our education system. We simply cannot afford to undercut or underfund our traditional schools. And short-changing the children who attend them is morally indefensible.

Janetta King is president of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus.


1formerdemliberal(182 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Ms. King's bio appears at

Quoting directly from Ms. King's bio:

"Before founding Innovation Ohio in 2011, King served as the deputy chief of staff for policy for Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Working with state agencies, legislators and stakeholders, she lead implementation of the governors' signature public policy agenda including ........a complete overhaul of Ohio’s education system and funding formula."

Apparently Ms. King was actively involved in the current Ohio education funding plan that she now criticizes as unfair. Can't blame Kasich for developing an "unfair" funding plan that you were integrally responsible for, Ms. King.

I understand that neither charter or traditional public schools are perfect. But her article does nothing more than serve to advocate the Democratic mantra of continued protection of union public school teaching positions in the name of "fairness" and the "kids".

Suggest removal:

2Johny959(1 comment)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

I'm inclined to side with your views however, there aren't a lot of sources or facts/studies which you note your article with. They are merely stated facts presented by you. I have a friend who is a Chicago public school teacher and some of the things you mentioned he has brought up in conversations about Charter schools and that's where my inclination comes into play but I just want to be sure. I was just hoping for maybe some concrete facts, or evidence supporting, for instance,

Charters pay teachers far less than traditional schools ($34,714 vs. $57,310, on average)

On top of that, most of the money being transferred to charters is going to schools whose student performance scores are worse than the school districts from which the money and students came.

only about two dozen out of the nearly 300 charters rated by the state Department of Education score above the state average on performance measures.

One thing that makes be especially inclined is that fact that there are traditional school closings being made within the next 10 years and charters are bing planned to replace them. Are charters really just a way to privatize the school system? And if so what harm does it do to the learning of students and to the ability for teachers to effectively do their job?

Please feel free to write where your information is coming from. I'd like to know more :)

Johnathan Nieves

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3Education_Voter(838 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

I know this can be confusing. Before Gov. Strickland's carefully constructed funding plan came into full effect, Gov. Kasich won the election. One of the first things he did was destroy the "current education funding and reform plan". So within two years we had two very different plans introduced, leaving even professionals wondering what rules and procedures were still in place.

Suggest removal:

4Education_Voter(838 comments)posted 1 year, 4 months ago

Although many concerns about charter schools remain constant from state to state, Ohio is known nationally as "the Wild West" of charter schools where charter schools are poorly regulated or checked, where there are many horror stories of charter school operators disappearing along with the funding we gave them.

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