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Education

Report: Prune weak charter schools, spend more on others

Ohio should do some "house-cleaning" in its charter school system and force academically failing or financially troubled schools to seek reapproval or be shut down, a report released yesterday said.

At the same time, the report said the state should spend more money on the charter school system, lift its cap on the number of charter schools allowed, and do more to help the schools find buildings by allocating a "proportionate share of future capital bonds provided to the Ohio School Facilities Commission."

"Ohio is the first state ever to request an outside audit like this, which takes some guts," said Chester Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The report, which was requested by Gov. Bob Taft, the Ohio Department of Education, and legislative leaders, also called for an end to a moratorium on online charter schools and for help for charter schools in paying for student transport.

The report, "Turning the Corner to Quality," was written by the Fordham Institute, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It offers 17 recommendations.

"On the one hand, many of the thousands of students attending some 300 charter schools are achieving at higher levels than their peers in surrounding district schools," Mr. Finn said. "On the other hand, far too many youngsters attend charter schools that are faltering. The state owes them a better deal."

Thirty-one percent of Ohio charter schools received the equivalent to a grade of F from the state for 2005-2006 performance, and 18 were given a D.

J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the department agrees with many of the recommendations.

"We support school choice, but not at the expense of accountability," Mr. Benton said. "Ohioans have embraced the charter school movement; however, we need to ensure charters provide the same quality of education as our 4,000 traditional school buildings."

He noted that some of the recommendations are already in the works.

"For example, we have made a legislative proposal to require all [charter school authorizers] to be evaluated and to enact progressive sanctions for sponsors that do not fulfill their obligations and legal responsibilities," Mr. Benton said.

Charter schools, which also are called community schools in Ohio, are public schools that are often privately operated. There are 304 in the state with more than 70,500 students.

Allison Perz, executive director of the Toledo-based Ohio Council of Community Schools, said the report does not discuss how the recommendations would be funded.

"There absolutely needs to be some changes in the charter school arena and for all public education," Ms. Perz said.

Regarding the recommendation to close academically failing or financially troubled charter schools, she said that seemed like a double standard.

"I don't think you can be onerous in one arena and not the other," Ms. Perz said.

Ms. Perz also said that there has not been "broad, sweeping legislative actions on the traditional school system like there has been on the charter school system."

The Ohio Council of Community Schools is the state's second-largest authorizer of charter schools next to the Lucas County Education Service Center.

Tom Mooney, chairman of the Coalition for Public Education, said the report falls short of the needed overhaul.

"These recommendations would very likely result in more tax dollars being wasted in underperforming charter schools," he said. "They would certainly do more damage to Ohio's higher-performing public schools."

State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), a former schoolteacher and charter school critic, said the report was misleading and showed a desire to increase the number of charter schools "while continuing to ignore the problems facing our traditional public schools."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.

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