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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

Group seeks end to funds for charter schools

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A coalition of teachers' unions and other educators is pushing to halt public funding of charter schools, which the group said performed dismally for a second consecutive year on the state's local school report cards issued this week.

Additionally, state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) - who joined the Coalition for Public Education during a news conference yesterday in Columbus - said she is sponsoring a bill that calls for a two year-moratorium on new charter schools.

"You have a substandard level for the charter schools on the ranking system," Ms. Fedor said. "We found more charter schools that did not turn in data."

The 2003-2004 school report cards, for both public and charter schools, were released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Education. The state reported data on 149 charter schools, also called community schools. Thirty-one percent were listed in academic emergency; 11.5 percent were in academic watch; 29.1 percent were in continuous improvement; 3.4 percent were rated effective, and less than 1 percent were excellent.

Ms. Fedor sent a letter to the president of the Ohio Board of Education requesting action regarding the 24.3 percent of charter schools statewide that did not receive a rating. "Here again, we have a lesser standard for charter schools," she said.

A charter school would get no rating if the school is teaching

students who aren't taking state-required proficiency tests, wasn't in existence the entire school year, or didn't report data.

About 190 charter schools operate in Ohio. Last year, they received a total of $290 million from the state, said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

"We have worked closely with lawmakers to strengthen the accountability of Ohio's charter school movement," he said.

This year, charter schools in Lucas County will receive more than $25.7 million, according to state data.

Ohio's 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus ruled Tuesday that the Coalition for Public Education will be allowed to renew its argument for cutting public funding to privately run charter schools.

The court reversed the decision of a Franklin County court, and revived several counts in the coalition's legal challenge to the state's charter school program. A three-judge panel unanimously overruled Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Patrick McGrath, who dismissed the lawsuit.

The court said the lower court judge must decide whether charter schools receive a portion of local property taxes in addition to state aid in violation of the Ohio Constitution.

Tom Mooney, coalition chairman and president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said charter schools have not been held to the same standards as public schools, yet they reap the benefits of public money. He also blamed the state education department for "sloppiness" in presenting charter school data.

"This is public education by contract with private groups and they were to be held accountable for results, so it's very important that we get from the Ohio Department of Education accurate, complete, and timely results," he said. "So we looked at the report cards yesterday and, first of all, it was torture to pull this information together."

Mr. Mooney said the coalition's analysis showed many of the charter schools rated continuous improvement didn't deserve that high a designation.

"Charter schools are performing well below the public schools," he said.

Allison Perz, liaison to the Ohio Council of Community Schools, did not return calls seeking comment. The leaders of several charter schools in Toledo declined to be interviewed.

The Leona Group of East Lansing, Mich., operates seven charter schools in the Toledo area. Toledo Public School sponsors its own charter schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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