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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Only in Ohio is Charter Authorizer Transparency Controversial

I have been quick to credit the quality-based charter school community for their efforts to bring around needed and substantive reform to the sector. Whether it's been Students First, the Breakthrough schools in Cleveland, or the Fordham Institute, the quality-based charter school community have been real lions in the fight for kids in charters. They have been quite willing to join forces with charter critics on common sense reforms.

The change in tenor on this topic is refreshing and incredibly hopeful.

I was dismayed when I read in the Columbus Dispatch late last week that the association representing charter school sponsors (what Ohio calls an authorizer) doesn't want to have to explain how they spend the taxpayer money they receive to oversee charter schools.

The Ohio Association of Public Charter School Authorizers claimed that only the poorest performing charter school sponsors should have to report that. But how useful will that be if we can't compare how the worse performers spend their money vs. how the best ones do?

That's right. It isn't useful.

Of the 67 sponsors listed in last year's annual report, 25 are prohibited from sponsoring more schools for poor performance or failure to comply with state requirements. Those sponsors oversee 78 schools -- 21 of them by the North Central Ohio ESC and another 11 by Richland Academy. That means that of the 78 schools overseen by the worst sponsors, nearly half are overseen by 2 sponsors. the remaining 23 sponsors oversee a total of 46 schools, or 2 per sponsor.

Meanwhile, 43 sponsors are allowed to keep sponsoring schools, accounting for 317 charter schools -- 231 of which are overseen by 5 sponsors.

This points to my primary concern about focusing on sponsor performance: More than half of all charter schools in Ohio are sponsored by just 5 non-profit organizations. There is little, if any, chance that these big sponsors will ever be shut down. So why can't we taxpayers, who fund these guys, at least see how they are spending money to oversee the largely failing schools they're supposed to be supervising?

To his credit, Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute, pretty well hammered the OAPCSA's position.
“The idea that they can spend their funds on whatever they choose runs directly counter to trying to put as many dollars in the classroom as possible,” he said.
And here's another thing: The idea that one should be able to take our tax dollars and spend it however they see fit without taxpayers like you and me being able to scrutinize that expenditure is nuts. I'm sorry. It is.

This is the kind of argument that has driven me mental for years on this Ohio charter school situation. No-brainer items like having charter school sponsors, who get about $30 million a year to oversee charter schools that are consistently outperformed by local public schools, detail how they spend their money overseeing this largely failing education sector is actually controversial.

It's a sad commentary on our charter school situation. But I find hope in this: once again, the quality-based charter community has stood for kids and taxpayers while fighting for a bill pending in the Ohio General Assembly that would include this no-brainer provision.

And that is indeed an excellent development.