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Ohio school bill would bar charter from enrolling student if better traditional school exists

A bill proposed in the Ohio Senate would block students from enrolling in charter schools that are ranked worse than nearby traditional neighborhood schools.

SB 175, first introduced by Democratic State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, has been in the works since May of this year, but is moving along in the Senate education committee after supporters of the bill gave testimony in favor of its passage recently. The committee is split six to three in favor of Republicans.

“We need to make sure that we are not punishing excellent public schools financially by supporting charter schools that continually fail to provide our children a quality education,” Schiavoni told The American Independent. “This bill levels the playing field between our charter schools and public schools by holding them accountable for their results.”

He added: “In these economic times where state resources are so scarce, it’s critical that taxpayer dollars for education are spent efficiently. This bill makes sure of that.”

Officials close to the proceedings tell The American Independent superintendents and treasurers from local school districts came to the senator after noticing a drop-off in enrollment. Financially, losing a student spells trouble for a neighborhood school, as local dollars raised through property taxes, and state funds, travel with the student to the new school. Many became frustrated over what they saw as disproportionate amount of funding to charter schools in the state despite their performance indicators trailing traditional, neighborhood schools.

According to testimony given to the education committee by Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think-tank based in Columbus, charter schools (known as community schools) have a median performance index of 77.6, which is worse than all but six school district scores. He added: “Meanwhile, only 23 charters scored better than the median traditional school district score of 99.4.”

Funding for neighborhood schools has increased by 26 percent since 2000, compared to 1285 percent in expanded funding for charter schools. While that number reflects the quick build up of charter programs in the state, many of the schools don’t pass the muster.

Also from his testimony:

Of the 100,064 children enrolled in charters, about 24 percent attend school in an effective or better building; about 6 percent attend school in an excellent or excellent with distinction building, and nearly 40 percent attend school in a failing building. That means that about 40 percent of the $721 million the state spent last year on Community Schools, or about $290 million, went to educate children in failing buildings.

By way of comparison, about 60 percent of all traditional public school children attended school in an Excellent (A) or Excellent with Distinction (A+) building. So that means of the $5.6 billion the state sent to school districts, $3.3 billion of that went to give children an excellent education.

Meanwhile, only about 99,000 of the state’s 1.7 million children educated in the traditional public schools attended a building in Academic Watch or Emergency.

Boardman Local School Superintendent Frank Lazzeri, who testified in favor of SB 175 in late September, told the committee charter schools are draining his district’s resources.

“This past year the Boardman Local School District sent $807,762 to community schools – all of which were underperforming and nearly half of which were on-line schools,” Lazzeri said. “Since the inception of community schools our district has lost over $6.1 million of funding to poor performing community schools.”

He added: “What is odd is the fact that the Boardman School District only receives about $1,400 per pupil in state foundation money. However, when a child leaves our district to attend a community school, $5,753 is deducted from our foundation money and given to the charter school.”

Unlike brick and mortar campuses, on-line charter schools are not beholden to overhead costs like heating, maintenance, school supplies, and transportation.

Federal education laws under No Child Left Behind already permit students to leave schools that underperform for more than two years. However, that provision pertains to Title 1 schools, or places of instruction with a high number of economically disadvantaged students.

“I believe that some parents are misled by the advertising and promotions offered by charter schools when making a decision on their child’s education,” said Sen. Schiavoni. “Unfortunately, many students who leave for charters return back to their public schools and are behind in their academic performance compared to peers.”

Though the intent of SB 175 is to encourage struggling schools to improve, a 2010 study (PDF) from The Thomas B. Fordham Institute — which operates charter schools in Ohio through a separate foundation — found that change does not come easy to most campuses in the country.

After identifying over 2,300 U.S. low-scoring schools from 2003 to see how well they improved over a five-year period, researchers noted less than one percent posted better performance indicators. Fewer than ten percent made even moderate gains. Charter schools, however, demonstrated a greater drop in the number of failing programs, but only by virtue of shutting down more campuses. Nine percent to 11 percent of neighborhood schools were shuttered; the percentage of schools demonstrating improvement was even between the two categories.

More recently, a high-profile analysis (PDF) of Pennsylvania charter schools found that online charter programs lag significantly behind campus-based education facilities. The study also found student performance improves the longer he or she is enrolled at a charter school, and for brick and mortar campuses, charter schools were statistically even with neighborhood schools.

Other national- and state-specific studies show a picture of charter schools mostly training neighborhood schools in outcomes. A report from The Center for Research and Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University conducted the nation’s first comprehensive comparison of charter and neighborhood schools, finding that for every 17 charters that perform better, 37 perform worse. The remaining schools were indistinguishable from their virtual public school twins. Fifteen states and Washington D.C., were scrutinized in the study (PDF).

The report did find charters with similar demographics to district schools performed better at the elementary and middle school level; a study in association with The National Charter School Research Project found (PDF) similar results.

President Obama supports the expansion of charter schools, and has called on states to break down barriers to charter accreditation.

Follow The American Independent as we continue to report on charter schools and federal education policies like No Child Left Behind.

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