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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Transportation: Charter Schools' Literal Gravy Train

In the Akron Beacon Journal's final installment of its three-part series on Charter Schools, the paper demonstrated how unfair school transportation is when it comes to Charter Schools. The paper reported the following:

  • It costs 44% more to transport children to Charter Schools than Traditional Public Schools
  • Transportation contractors charge more than twice as much per pupil to transport a child to a Charter School
  • In Akron Public Schools, kids living within 2 miles of school have to walk, but Charter School kids are all but guaranteed a ride on the bus
  • The cost of transportation is more than $15 million more statewide because districts are forced by the state to transport kids to privately run Charter Schools
  • Meanwhile, the state has stopped helping districts buy buses and has failed to keep pace with other transportation funding, exacerbating an already tight budget crunch
The Beacon Journal series has blown the doors wide open on Charter School accountability. Day One demonstrated that even basic information -- like who's on the Charter School Board -- is mostly hidden in the Charter School world. Day Two showed how the uber-powerful White Hat Management uses state law it mostly wrote, thanks to its powerful political connections, to run for-profit schools under the guise of a non-profit. And Day Three now shows how taxpayers are being forced to pay for busing kids to Charter Schools, even though those kids simply wouldn't be allowed to be bused to their neighborhood school because of state cuts.

Again, I'm not against Charter Schools necessarily. But I am against this. I don't see how anyone could read the last three days of Beacon Journal stories and not be moved to action. How could you not be moved to reform a system that enshrines such inequities, such gross unfairness?

The Beacon Journal has promised a "multiyear" look into Charter Schools. Now that it's a $900 million a year program, and state taxpayers have spent more than $7.3 billion on these schools since 1998, the Beacon's exam is essential. It's telling that it takes a newspaper to do this. That's because state lawmakers have made it illegal for state agencies to examine Charters in depth. 

The Ohio Department of Education testified before me when I was in the legislature that they don't have the contracts between Charter Schools and their operators because ODE isn't allowed to ask for them on taxpayers' behalf. Charter Schools can give them to ODE if they want, but are under no obligation to do so. That's because these companies and their privacy is deemed more important by state legislators than the appropriate expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars.

These are your tax dollars. They are my tax dollars. We've seen the equivalent of an entire year of education funding for traditional public schools dumped into Charter Schools since 1998. And these schools perform far worse overall and spend money far less efficiently in the classroom -- the exact opposite outcome we were promised in 1998 (cheaper and better, remember?). 

I want to know how any of these outcomes reported by the Beacon Journal these last three days has improved educational experiences for children. How does hiding basic information about a school's operation help a kid learn complex math concepts? How does allowing big campaign contributors to make huge sums of money at the public trough improve our children's ability to understand Shakespeare? How does forcing districts to bus kids across cities while forcing other kids to walk two miles to a neighborhood school improve their critical thinking skills?

None of this stuff is done to help kids. It's done to help the adults who are profiting handsomely off Charter Schools. And that is about as cynical and harmful a system as I can imagine.

Today, I'm proud to be a Beacon Journal alum. On days like this, I wish I was back in that newsroom.

Well, for a minute anyway.