Charter-school foes dealt swift kick in court

It took a year, but common sense prevailed Sept. 25 when a Montgomery County judge dismissed the latest legal shenanigan of charter-school foes in the Buckeye State (see here). In September 2007, then-state Attorney General Marc Dann sued to close three Dayton-area charters alleging that their poor academic performance and mismanagement put them out of compliance with the state's charitable trust laws (see here). He added a fourth case, against a Cincinnati charter, in January 2008.

In the ruling involving the New Choices Community School in Dayton, Common Pleas Judge Michael Tucker disagreed: "This court concludes... that New Choices [charter school] is a political subdivision. Given this conclusion, there is simply no charitable trust role for the Attorney General either by statute or at common law."

The New Choices decision gives hope of a favorable outcome in the remaining two suits since they are also based on the same novel interpretation of Ohio law. Cases remain against Moraine Community School in Montgomery County (see here) and the Harmony Community School in Cincinnati, in Hamilton County (see here). Dann originally filed against four charters, but the fourth school, the Colin Powell Leadership Academy, in Dayton, closed.

As The Gadfly has noted, Dann's lawsuits were never about rescuing kids from bad schools (see here). They were a political maneuver, pure and simple. The Ohio Education Association (OEA), in return for Dann's cooperation in filing the suits, agreed to drop its own flawed legal action against the state for allegedly failing to monitor charter schools properly. E-mails later revealed that Dann's legal strategy was the brainstorm of his cronies at the OEA (see here). With the ruling and the fact that Dann resigned from office amid scandal last spring, the union is sure to be rethinking that decision (see here).

We're no apologists for lousy public schools (district or charter), of which Ohio has too many-especially in the urban centers. Last school year, 51 percent of students in Ohio's eight biggest cities attended a school rated D or F by the state (see here). Fordham, in conjunction with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, laid out recommendations in 2006 for addressing underperforming charter schools (see here). And just last month we called on Ohio to be aggressive in closing bad charter schools (see here). We've even provided ideas for how to do this in a way that provides due process, is transparent, and will hold up in court.

The state has until October 27 to appeal Judge Tucker's decision in the New Choices case. It's possible a decision to appeal, or not, won't be made until after the Hamilton County case is decided in a ruling expected later this month. An appeal remains a real possibility since Attorney General Nancy Rogers, appointed after Dann's resignation, decided to press on with the cases and the ongoing expense to state taxpayers.

Ohio's scarce resources shouldn't be spent on law firms and courtrooms, but in classrooms. The legal standing of charters and choice has been consistently supported by both the state and federal courts. Instead of continuing to fight against the mere existence of charter schools, traditional school districts and their allies in the General Assembly and statewide office should be seeking ways to work with, learn from, and support the good ones. There are simply too many children in Ohio attending schools that are not preparing them for success and any school-charter or district-that delivers results should be supported, while those that don't-charter or district-should be put on notice.

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