Capital News: Continued debate over the future of charter schools in Ohio

by MARC KOVAC RPC CAPITAL BUREAU Published:

Columbus — There are certain issues with divides so deep and proponents and opponents so entrenched that it’s hard to envision compromise on related policies.
Abortion comes immediately to mind, as does gay marriage. There are strongly held convictions by both sides of those debates. While public sentiment will swing one way or the other at any given time, I don’t think you’re going to find too many people willing to change their opinion or offer concessions.
In other words, don’t start a conversation about such issues at the dinner table when your other-minded relatives are in town.
At one time, you could have added charter schools to that list, judging by the number of emails I receive on a regular basis from those who support having other educational options for kids and those who want more support for public schools.
Proponents say charter schools have a role to play, filling a void left by failing public schools and offering at-risk students a place to thrive. Opponents say charters aren’t held to the same standards, and some end up siphoning needed resources from their public counterparts, fattening the wallets of already-wealthy administrators in the process.
There are good arguments on both sides.
But the tide might be turning against charter schools, given recent news accounts of FBI investigations, alleged illicit activities involving children and other issues with one chain. Another Cincinnati charter closed abruptly earlier this month, reportedly over financial and other problems.
Average people don’t like to hear about that kind of thing and must wonder why the state has allowed such charters to stay in business.
Democrats aren’t letting up on public criticism of state funds that were given to charters with abysmal academic results.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) piled on during a press conference at the Statehouse, where they reiterated the problems and questioned why Republicans weren’t willing to hold hearings on bills backed by Democrats to address the issue.
Their press event came about a week after a rally outside the Statehouse, where speakers offered similar comments.
“With students across the state heading back to school this week there is no more time to waste,” Schiavoni said in a released statement. “Our current laws are too weak to protect our school children and tax dollars. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.”
Driehaus added, “As our tax dollars continue to flow to more failing charter schools, the legislature has a responsibility to parents and students to get serious about putting our kids’ value and achievement above the status quo. Ohio’s charter school laws are out of date, leaving some of the worst performing charter schools running for up to five years before the state can close them. It is time to take action.”
In some ways, Schiavoni and others are shouting into the wind, given it’s summer recess and no real legislative action is expected until after the November general election and the subsequent lame duck session.
But charter school horror stories will continue to be told. It’s only a matter of time before lawmakers are pushed to act and figure out a way to address the accountability concerns raised by opponents while supporting educational options wanted by some parents.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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