Roberts plans charter-school overhaul

State Senator Tom Roberts Tuesday introduced three bills he said were designed to strengthen transparency and accountability standards in charter schools (S.B. 331, S.B. 332, and S.B. 333). Roberts outlined the bills at a news conference, where he was flanked by representatives of the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, and Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

One bill would extend public-records and public-audit laws to charter-school sponsors and operators and would prohibit charter sponsors from renewing contracts with schools owing money to the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. A second bill would repeal the requirement that gives community schools the right of first refusal on unused school buildings, while a third bill would require that community schools and public district schools hire teachers using the same teacher-qualification standards. The bill also would require school districts to learn why students, formerly enrolled in charter schools, switch back to district public schools.

The Dayton Democrat, in response to a question from The Gadfly, said it also would be nice to know why students left the district schools for charters in the first place. He said the bill would be changed to reflect that. He also said he does not know how many charter schools may be in arrears for workers compensation payments.

Separately, in the House two bills to entice Ohioans to live in the state's urban areas had hearings recently. House Bill 26 proposes "urban homestead zones" in which residents spending $120,000 or more to purchase or improve property would be eligible for tuition vouchers to send their children to private schools. The Ohio Education Association (OEA) opposed the bill in testimony as they see this as an effort to expand vouchers. The OEA also objects to the bill because it believes property taxes intended to pay for the vouchers would not adequately cover their cost. A separate bill (H.B. 162) would provide an income-tax credit for teachers living and working in a Big Eight district (that is, Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown) and grant an additional tax credit for STEM teachers in those districts.

Other legislation before the House education committee would eliminate the Praxis III as a condition for receiving a professional educator license. Under H.B. 347, beginning in July 2010, eligibility for a professional license would be based on a teacher's rating on an assessment to be approved by the State Board of Education. The assessment would require demonstrated application of Ohio's teaching and academic-content standards. The bill also requires the Ohio Department of Education to develop standards for mentoring programs for new teachers.

The Senate education committee on Tuesday adopted a substitute version of S.B. 57 to establish a state special-education scholarship program for parents of special-education children to send their children to alternative public or private special-education providers. As with the autism scholarship program, parents opting for the special-education voucher would forego certain rights, such as protesting to the state education department if a parent is unhappy with the school's program.

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