Three months ago, I wrote about the discussions various committees of the Ohio Legislature were having on matters involving charter schools. I indicated that while the Legislature was on the right track, there was doubt about the outcome.
The skepticism was justified. Much was said, but little was done, and Ohio has these unresolved problems regarding charter schools:
1. Charter school budgets are secret. Because they operate with tax money, their budget should be public. As things stand, you can find out how much money a charter school gets, but you cannot find out what the school does with it. We know some operators take a considerable amount off the top, but we do not know how much.
2. Boards of charter schools should have public meetings at a regular time, as the boards of public schools do. As it is now, you cannot even find out who the board members are.
3. Charter schools are making donations to members of the Legislature. Tax money should not be used for this purpose. This is an obvious conflict of interest, and legislators should know enough not to accept such contributions, but since they don’t we need a law.
4. An analysis by the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that achievement by pupils in charter schools is significantly less than that of pupils in public schools. Poor performing charter schools should be closed. Charter schools do better than public schools in big cities, but that is a reflection of how badly public schools in big cities do. That in turn is a reflection of inadequate state funding.
5. Charter schools are now funded by taking money away from the home district of pupils n the charter schools. Part of this is state money, but part is money local taxpayers have vote for their local schools. When I vote for a school tax, I am entitled to assume that it will be used in the Athens City School District, not somewhere else picked by the Legislature. The Legislature is taking a billion dollars a year away from local districts. If the Legislature wants charter schools, it should fund them directly.
6. There are instances of poor performing schools being closed and then reopened in the same building with most of the same staff, but a new name for the school. A charter school operator who has had a school closed should not be allowed to open another one for at least a year.
7. We have the Gulen School mess — 19 schools run by a Turkish exile. Seventeen of the 19 had an F rating by the Ohio Department of Education. They bring Turkish teachers and administrations, perhaps in violation of immigration laws. Teachers who have worked at them report what appears to be staff members filling in answers on state tests. They offer members of the legislature free trips to Turkey, yet the Ohio Department of Education either lacks the authority or the desire to investigate these schools.
8. State Auditor David Yost investigated 30 charter schools and found that half of them were overstating attendance and thereby claiming money they were not entitled to. It is not clear what acton will be taken.
What this adds up to is that charter schools in Ohio are not making education better. The billion dollars we were putting into charter schools would do more if we gave it to the 612 public school. The Legislature owes us a better effort on these issues.
Guido H. Stempel III is a distinguished professor emeritus of journalism at Ohio University. Professor Stempel has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin and a master's in journalism from Indiana University. He has been on the Ohio University faculty since 1965 and served as director and graduate chairman of the journalism school, director of the Bush Research Endowment, and director of the Scripps Survey Research Center. He is a columnist for The Athens Messenger and The Highland County Press.