State Democrats push for charter school change

Charter schools continued to be a political issue Tuesday, as state Democratic Party leaders visiting Dayton called for more transparency and accountability, arguing that Republicans are blocking meaningful charter school reform.

Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni said the issue dates to 2011, as multiple bills he introduced to address failing charter schools didn’t advance to the floor for a vote in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said the situation continues today, as Republicans on the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) this week blocked a rule to evaluate and crack down on the worst charter sponsors.

“We’re going to keep pushing for reform in the statehouse. We encourage the state school board and local school boards to do what they need to do, but the truth is this will be solved only by a change of leadership,” Pepper said, asking voters to elect Democrats to the state legislature.

Republican Andrew Brenner, chairman of the House Education Committee, defended Republican efforts on charter reform, pointing to the passage of House Bill 2. He supports the tougher sponsor evaluations, but said JCARR was right to block this specific rule because it would retroactively enforce the evaluations.

Brenner also questioned whether Schiavoni and other Democrats did enough on previous charter reform bills to get buy-in from Republicans.

Pepper said Republicans haven’t supported them because charter school operators are major financial contributors to state Republican leadership. He pointed to the fact that Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger and Auditor of State Dave Yost have spoken at the past two graduation ceremonies for ECOT, despite the online school’s “F” ratings on state report cards.

Chad Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Fordham Institute, a charter sponsor, took a broader view. He said the charter reforms Ohio has passed were needed and were major changes, “so it’s normal to expect some bumps in the road” in implementation.

But he warned that even when the sponsor evaluation issue gets decided, charter policy is contentious enough that “it’s not like everybody’s just going to hold hands.”

Schiavoni and Pepper also repeated complaints from last year that Ohio’s funding system takes too much money from public schools when a student leaves for a charter school. They cited $12 million in Montgomery County alone being diverted to charter schools.

Aldis challenged that argument, saying the Democrats were looking only at one school funding source (state dollars), rather than seeing the big picture that charter schools generally spend less per student than district schools, because they don’t pass tax levies.