Don’t believe charter critics

By Stephanie Klupinski

Special to The Vindicator

The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to the enhancement and sustainability of quality charter schools. OAPCS encourages well-reasoned, honest debates about how all public schools can be improved to best meet the needs of students.Unfortunately, the commentary by Janetta King of Innovation Ohio (Vindicator, March 11) contains a great deal of misinformation about charter schools that must be addressed.

First, King’s assertion that charters “cost the state twice as much” as district schools is simply not true. Unlike district schools, Ohio’s public charter schools do not receive local tax dollars. When a student leaves a district for a charter school, only the state and federal funds follow. A true comparison of charter and district funding — one that accounts for local, state, and federal revenue — reveals that Ohio charter schools receive, on average, $2,000 less per pupil. In a recent analysis by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools of all state charter school laws, Ohio’s ranks the lowest in terms of equitable funding.

Nonsensical solution

Moreover, her proposed solution — to fund charters based on what they actually spend — is nonsensical. Charters spend less money than district schools precisely because they receive less money. Under King’s circular reasoning, districts that spend within budget should also never receive increases because funding should be based on what they currently spend. Across Ohio, charter schools serve fewer white students and more economically disadvantaged than state averages. To suggest that they be funded according to some number that represents minimal operational costs, while nearby districts serving fewer poor students are funded at higher levels and according to what it actually costs to educate kids, is unconscionable.

King also resumes a tired and unproductive debate about which is better — district or charter. Most people on all sides of the political spectrum have moved beyond this kind of zero-sum thinking, a mindless sandbox argument where the only losers are students. Reasonable progressives and conservatives alike recognize that most variance in school quality depends not on whether the school is district or charter, but whether the school has excellent leadership, high-quality teachers, and the financial capacity to do the job. Rather than aligning themselves in a district or charter camp, they align with the goal of creating a public education system that provides a quality education for all of its students.

Finally, King’s claims that charters are unaccountable and low-performing are not grounded in truth. She compares charter schools to all public schools in the state, despite the fact that district schools serve, on average, a more privileged student population than do charter schools, and she neglects to point out that over 100 charter schools serve students with special needs or those most at risk (dropout recovery). Under King’s approach, we should also expect Youngstown city schools to fare as well on state tests as suburban schools in Poland and Canfield. To be sure, poverty is not an excuse, and all schools should be expected to perform to high levels. But it is hardly surprising that suburban schools tend to outperform urban schools, district or charter, especially on static measures like the Performance Index that King references.

A true apples-to-apples comparison shows that Ohio’s urban charter schools consistently outperform the district schools from which most of them come. Last year, 40 percent of urban charters received a report card grade of Excellent or Effective, compared with only about one-fourth of urban district schools. Moreover, state law ensures that charter schools that fail to meet certain academic benchmarks for two out of three years are shut down — a consequence that does not apply to poor-performing district schools. One could then argue that, contrary to King’s claims, charters are actually more accountable than district schools.

Civic goal

In his re-election victory speech last November, President Obama urged the nation to move past their differences and to unify around important civic goals — and the first civic goal he named was ensuring that all students have access to excellent schools and teachers. His administration recognizes the valuable role public charter schools play in accomplishing this civic goal: they increase the number of public school options available for students most in need, they raise the bar about what’s possible in education, and they help close the achievement gap. Innovation Ohio and other progressives would do well to recognize this and to support all public schools that give economically disadvantaged students more opportunities, rather than misconstruing the facts.

Stephanie Klupinski is vice president for legal and legislative affairs with the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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