Oberlin Schools weigh taking up arms in charter fight

By Jason Hawk and Valerie Urbanik

<p style="text-align: right;">Graphic courtesy of Metro Creative

Graphic courtesy of Metro Creative

When it comes to the fight over public school funding, Oberlin may soon throw a punch.

Board of education member Barry Richard urged his colleagues Tuesday to consider sending a bill to the Ohio Department of Education demanding some $146,200 per year in state funding be returned to local accounts.

Amherst, Firelands, Keystone, and Elyria have all cast recent votes to invoice Ohio for money lost to charter schools.

Here’s the problem: Oberlin gets $2,500 per pupil in state-share funding, but Ohio deducts $5,900 from the school district for each student who enrolls at a charter school.

Local taxpayers have to make up the $3,400 difference, not the state.

Oberlin had 43 students enroll out to charters last year. That totals $146,200 in state funding sapped away from the district.

Lorain County superintendents are floating a resolution calling for cash to be refunded to their school systems.

“Ohio must fund charter schools in a way that does not penalize local public schools and must take into account its impact on the more than 90 percent of Ohio public school students who are not in charters,” the document says.

The Firelands Schools, which cover townships to the west of Oberlin and stretch up into the Amherst city limits, sent the same message to the state in December.

Firelands taxpayers have handed over $3.8 million in public money to private charters since 2002, the board of education said, calling the losses “an unfair expense” created by “Ohio’s failed charter school experiment.”

Charter schools have become a $1 billion industry in the state.

William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, calls Ohio’s charter system a “failed boondoggle” that started as a $10 million experiment in 1999.

In a November speech at the Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference in Columbus, he urged local educators to “challenge the state’s unconstitutional, inadequate, inequitable school funding system.”

Phillis’ recommendations included invoicing the Ohio Department of Education for lost charter school funds.

Also on the list: appealing to the U.S. Department of Education to withdraw $71 million in grant funding for Ohio charter school expansion; demanding an independent investigation of the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office; demanding spending limits on marketing campaigns by charter schools; opposing the transfer of local funds to charters; and more.

“The charter industry is a parasite on the public common school system,” Phillis said. “It drains valuable resources from a system that is underfunded and over-mandated. It is time to draw a line in the sand.”

But the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools says the idea that charters divert funds from public schools is a myth.

“Charter schools generally operate with just two-thirds of the per-pupil funding provided for traditional public school students, and those funds must be allocated to cover the significant costs of facilities and transportation,” the organization says on its website. “With very limited exceptions, Ohio charter schools receive no portion of local share or levy funding.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @ValUrbanik on Twitter.

Graphic courtesy of Metro Creative


Graphic courtesy of Metro Creative

By Jason Hawk and Valerie Urbanik