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Published: Friday, 5/8/2009

Governor's charter school plan called racist

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Charter school advocates will take to the airwaves today to accuse Gov. Ted Strickland of championing "separate but unequal'' treatment of schools that disproportionately serve African-American students.

The ads will hit urban radio stations in Columbus, Akron, and Cleveland as Mr. Strickland rallies with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the Ohio State University campus in support of the governor's proposals to reform Ohio's K-12 education system.

The ads equate Mr. Strickland's proposal to fund community, or charter, schools at lower levels than traditional public schools with the civil-rights era fight over "separate but equal'' education for whites and blacks.

"Most of us would like to believe those days are over, but are they?'' asks the male announcer in the radio ad. "Here in Ohio, some politicians are trying to block the schoolhouse door for more than 80,000 public charter school students who are disproportionately African-American.''

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are freed from some of the regulation governing their more traditional counterparts.

"Our governor chose this very week, National Charter School Week, to rally with the teachers' union leaders who have been obstacles to reform for so many years,'' said Sue Westendorf of Bowling Green, executive director of the nonprofit group My School, My Choice, and a former president of the State Board of Education.

"At a time when so many other government leaders are embracing innovative learning options, including our new president and his education secretary, Ohio's governor is reverting to past policies that have failed so many students,'' she said.

My School, My Choice has allied with the Black Alliance for Educational Options to fund radio and newspaper ads today. Ms. Westendort said the ads will not air in Toledo because of insufficient funds.

Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst characterized the accusation as "just not true'' and counterproductive. "The best approach to yield better public policy is for all Ohioans to engage in a conversation on education that is constructive,'' she said. "This is the most important discussion for us to be having at this point in Ohio's history. The governor supports all schools, including charter schools, that are providing a high-quality education to students.''

Tracie Craft, state director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said she doesn't believe it is unfair to equate the budget plan with racial discrimination. "Governor Strickland's budget treats public charter schools unfairly,'' she said. "His cuts target choice schools that serve higher proportions of minority students.''

Mr. Strickland's original $51.4 billion, two-year budget proposal sought to reduce state funding for charter schools from $617 million this year to about $471 million in 2010 and $511 million in 2011, not counting one-time federal stimulus funds. The budget also differentiated between schools run by private managers and those sponsored by school districts.

The budget House Democrats sent to the Senate last week along a party-line vote would boost aid overall for charter schools but would punish those failing to maintain continuous-improvement status or better by withholding some of their subsidies.

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to increase funding for charter schools.



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