Dysfunction in Ohio charter sector is not the fault of Republicans alone

In his weekly TIME column, Andy Rotherham pens a piece, ?Are These End Times for Charter Schools??, that begs further discussion. (Although how much cooler would it have been if the column came out on May 21?)

Despite reasons for optimism about charter growth ? there are now over 5,000 charters serving more than a million kids (and many states, facing pressure from Race to the Top and/or GOP leaders, will stimulate more growth as they lift charter caps) ? Rotherham points out what we here in Ohio have been noting for nearly a decade:

Charter schools range in quality from among the absolute best public schools in the country to among the absolute worst. That variance in quality is proving a political Achilles heel for charter schools and is fueling a serious backlash.

He goes on to outline places where charter schools are victim to strong opposition from teachers unions (New York City ? the teachers union and NAACP filed a lawsuit to curb charter growth; Rhode Island ? one mayor is facing an uphill battle to bring one of the best CMOs in, Achievement First). It's reminiscent of the scene in The Lottery where Eva Moscowitz of Harlem Village Academy is verbally assaulted by parents trying to thwart the growth of her charter school (the very parents and families whose kids could benefit most from school choice).

And then comes the flipside of the coin ? how to make sure charter growth and accountability are held in check -- and here's where Ohio, predictably and unfortunately, becomes the poster child of dysfunction. Fordham was among the first to call out Ohio House Republicans for a slate of provisions in the state's budget bill that would have weakened charter accountability and oversight. And they deserve to be called out and reminded, as Rotherham writes, that ?one spectacular charter screw-up counts more than 100 quiet successes.?

But Rotherham grossly oversimplifies the experience in Ohio. Here, not all Ohio Republicans are trying to undermine accountability (though some members in the House ? motivated by the influential Akron industrialist David Brennan - certainly did). Many others have fought those provisions, notably lawmakers in the Ohio Senate who have thus far stripped those provisions out of the Ohio budget. And Ohio's Republican governor and policy team put forth ? in the original version of the budget ? policies that would restrict charter growth among only those networks of authorizers and operators that were high-performing, and preserve/strengthen other accountability measures.

Moreover, it's worth reminding readers that ? despite recent and well-deserved dismay over threats to charter accountability and quality ? Ohio has also served ? for several years mind you ? as the poster child for the first type of dysfunction that Rotherham describes. Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland tried decimating charter schools on repeated occasions; former Attorney General Marc Dann (also a Democrat) filed a high-profile series of lawsuits against charters; parents and teachers unions filed other lawsuits against them, challenging the fundamental fact that they are public schools, etc. The list could go on. More recently, we've seen school districts refuse charter schools ? even the best-performing ones ? public facilities, make transportation a living nightmare, and continue propagating the misperception that charters are a drain on public tax dollars (they are public schools, too).

The point is that if Ohio is to serve as the prototype of dysfunction in the charter sector, let's not forget both sides of the coin. Republicans and Democrats alike in this state have made some pretty bad decisions in both directions. And the Buckeye State desperately needs some balance.

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

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