120,000 kids in Ohio deserve a better law

Ohio slipped one spot in National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ (NAPCS) annual ranking of charter-school laws compared to last year. For the 2014 edition, Ohio ranked 28th out of 43 states and the District of Columbia, lagging well behind national leaders such as Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana (ranked first to third, respectively). NAPCS ranks each jurisdiction’s charter law based on twenty components of its model law. These components include inter alia the strength of accountability measures, the transparency of the charter application and renewal processes, and equitable access to operational and facilities funding.

Among the twenty components, Ohio received a best-in-class ranking on just two: “A variety of public charter schools allowed” and “Multiple authorizers available.” (And indeed, Ohio allows seemingly anyone who wants to open one to do so.) Meanwhile, even as the state has a dynamic and wide-open charter-school marketplace, its accountability measures fall short. The state received lackluster marks on its accountability and transparency policies. And, the nail in the proverbial coffin: The state’s funding provisions for charter schools still remain inequitable. On average, Ohio charters receive roughly $2,000 per pupil less than district schools, driven largely by their inability to access local revenue.

NAPCS reported a few incremental improvements in Ohio’s charter-school law over the past year. Such improvements include a $100 per-pupil facilities-funding grant to physical charter schools, a provision that passed in the 2013 state budget bill. This, combined with a number of other small changes, improved Ohio’s score from 117 to 129. (For reference, Minnesota—the top dog nationally—received a score of 174.)

But in comparison to other states which are making aggressive improvements to their charter-school laws, Ohio dawdles. The biggest movers from 2013 to 2014? Mississippi leapt from 43rd to 14th place; Idaho jumped from 32nd to 20th; and, Indiana moved up from 9th to 2nd. NAPCS commended Mississippi for its “significant overhaul” of the state’s young charter-school law (enacted in 2010). The Magnolia State’s changes included a bump in the cap on start-up and conversion charters and the establishment of a statewide authorizing entity. Both Idaho and Indiana were fingered for their creation of a charter-school renewal process. The Hoosier State also received acclaim for clarifying, in statute, the relationship between a charter school and a service provider.

Coast-to-coast, the report finds that state’s charter laws are improving—and that state’s with weak laws are modeling legislative changes based on best-in-class charter laws. To its own detriment, Ohio is doing little of this, and the Buckeye State’s charter schools are getting left in the dust.

To catapult Ohio to the top of the rankings—and to provide the impetus for reform in the state’s charter-school program as a whole—a comprehensive rewrite of Ohio’s charter-school policies is long overdue. The state’s lackluster laws simply do not do enough good for the nearly 120,000 students who attend a charter. These kids, who often lack good public-school options, need a law that provides them with equitable funding, with the opportunity to learn in a suitable facility, and with the assurance that their school management is committed to educational quality above all else. 

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