Charter schools need to be held
to at least the same standards of accountability and transparency as are the state’s public schools. All are funded by state tax dollars.
BY DR. ROBERT ZORN
Poland Local Schools
Why are Ohio’s public schools in financial trouble?
The economy? Yes. Levy failures? Yes. Cuts in school aid? Yes. Unfunded state mandates? Yes. Unconstitutional state funding of Ohio’s public schools? Yes.
While all of the above are contributing factors why Ohio’s public schools are in financial trouble, there’s another reason contributing to Ohio’s public schools financial woes: the amount of state tax dollars being deducted each year to Ohio’s charter schools from the public schools districts’ budgets.
For instance, let’s look at the state’s tax dollars being distributed to the charter schools in Mahoning County from the state foundation aid earmarked by state for the county’s pubic school systems this year:
The $25.40 million charter school support deducted from Mahoning County’s public schools’ state aid is a significant loss in state revenue for these public school systems. This loss amounts to 15.59% of the state aid set aside for the public schools of Mahoning County per the state funding formula being diverted to charter schools.
The financial impact of charter schools’ funds deducted from the county’s public schools is even more visible when one looks more closely at examples of how this impacts on several individual school districts:
In Boardman Local Schools, total foundation state aid totals $6.64 million. Charter schools receive $726,611 of those funds, or a 10.85% loss in state revenue to Boardman’s public schools being sent to charter schools
In the Youngstown City School District, total foundation state aid totals more than $76 million. Charter schools state receive close to $22 million; or a 28.49% loss in state revenue to Youngstown’s public schools being sent to charter schools.
Keep in mind this loss in state aid taken from public school budgets to charter schools is a fairly new phenomenon in the history of state support to local public schools.
The first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1991. Today 41 states have charter schools in place. More than 690,000 students are enrolled nationwide in 2,695 charter schools across the United States.
In 1997 a law was passed enabling charter schools to open in Ohio. The law began as a ‘pilot’ in Lucas County allowing a maximum of 20 charter schools statewide in the ‘big 8 city districts.’
Today there are over 300 (355 at last count) charter schools in Ohio with an enrollment of approximately 95,000 pupils out of Ohio’s 1.8 million students, and these charter schools receive more than a half a billion or $720 million in state tax dollars this fiscal year.
Ohio law says charter schools must be non-profit, but these schools can hire for-profit companies to run them. It appears Ohio has little oversight of its more than 300 charter schools. The purpose of these schools is to provide an alternative to so-called failing public schools. The reality is most charter schools have poorer grades on state report cards than do the public school counterparts.
Ohio is one of the top states in the nation in terms of the number of charter schools and students, which is why there are significant dollars flowing away from public schools to charter schools in Ohio.
Most charter schools do not have unionized employees, and most charter schools teachers have fewer years of experience than those in public school districts, so costs are less by comparison. This is often overlooked when comparing costs.
These charter schools do not appear to be accountable for taxpayer dollars as are the taxpayer dollars in public school districts. The state’s public funds being spent on charter schools run by for-profit companies do not have to publicly disclose profits or losses or disclose how the public’s tax dollars are spent. This leaves a lot of questions compared to all public school systems in the state that are accountable for every tax dollar.
Those in favor of charter schools often cite parent choice as a key factor. (Editor’s note: This view decries a lesson of history---when Ohio lawmakers centralized school districts shorty after the turn of the 20th century). The question then becomes choice at what price – when involving tax dollars for charter schools that are failing to perform and at what price is the lack of state oversight of tax dollars and at what price is the state’s lack of fiscal responsibility for public tax dollars?
The academic results of charter schools overall still lag behind Ohio’s largest school districts on state report card scores – many or most charter schools are receiving state ratings of academic watch or academic emergency.
Only in 2006 did Ohio state lawmakers put into place a provision that forces poor-performing charter schools to close after three years of hitting the state’s lowest academic rating. However, charter schools considered as ‘drop out prevention’ are shielded from and exempt from this 2006 law.
The future of Ohio’s charter schools is still up in the air and in need of review. Charter schools were to offer students who weren’t succeeding in traditional public schools – either because of the school or the student – an alternative to a good education. These schools were to be an application of the principle that competition in an open market place of charter school versus public schools would be good for all schools and all taxpayers. It hasn’t proven to be so.
In today’s times, charter schools need to be held to at least the same standards of accountability and transparency as are the state’s public schools. All are funded by state tax dollars. Ohio taxpayers have the right to expect no less.