Mayoral sponsorship: How Columbus is dealing with a growing charter sector

A recent press release from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) estimated that 920,007 students are currently on a waitlist to attend charter schools, a jump from the previous year’s 610,000. For some education reformers, this may be a great statistic because it indicates charter schools are taking a more prominent role in education. For others, this same statistic may be absolutely terrifying.

As more charter schools open to meet this demand, students will have a greater potential to be exposed to innovative and rigorous approaches to education. Conversely, a greater demand for a charter school education also runs the risk of having a large number of charters open that disregard the quality of the educational services they provide. In an ideal world, sponsors would sort through charter school applicants to pick out potential high flyers, but news stories about mismanagement and the poor academic performance of some charter schools has shown that sponsors can fail in outlining rigorous criteria for the charter application and renewal process.

As we see a growth in charter schools applicants and a failure in approving high flyers, what are city leaders and legislators to do?

Columbus’s Mayor Michael B. Coleman, has decided to tackle this problem, becoming only the second mayor to sponsor charter schools in the country.  Gathering support through the legislature, House Bill 167, if signed by Governor Kasich, would allow the mayor to create a sponsorship office that is responsible for new start-up charter schools within the city.  More importantly, legislators have also required Coleman’s office to submit community school standards for all schools sponsored by the mayor to ODE. This paired with public pressure from the mayor’s electorate to grow good charter schools creates a strong case for the development of a thorough applications process that will seek out potential high flyers.

In taking the responsibility for the cities growing charter school sector, the mayor can deter a quality problem that has emerged. This is an important step in ensuring high flying schools in Columbus’s charter sector.  Next up for the city’s leadership is the passage of a levy that would allow local funds to be distributed to charter schools. While charter school critics may dislike the idea of supporting charters through local dollars, they have to concede that these new policies are a step in the right direction.

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