Local school districts are demanding a refund from the state.
Districts across our community newspapers’ coverage area lose about $5,800 per student in state taxpayer money when students leave for charter schools, more than twice what districts receive in state aid per student.
Local taxpayers have to make up the difference. “It’s appalling,” Oberlin board of education member Barry Richard told fellow board members at their April 26 meeting.
Oberlin, which lost about $2.6 million between 2000 and last year, is expected to pass a resolution May 24 seeking a refund from the Ohio Department of Education and asking the legislature to directly fund charters to eliminate the disparity.
Richard conceded the resolution is largely symbolic and the department is unlikely to make a refund.
However, Richard said spotlighting the disparity increases pressure on the legislature to change charter funding.
Brittany Halpin, an education department spokesman, wouldn’t comment on whether the department would make refunds, saying the legislature determines funding. She said about 120,000 students attended charter schools — officially known as community schools — in the last school year. The cost was approximately $93.1 million.
If the resolution passes, Oberlin will join the Amherst, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, North Ridgeville and Sheffield/Sheffield Lake school districts in seeking refunds and funding formula changes.
The Wellington Schools are considering passing a resolution May 17, said Wellington Superintendent Dennis Mock.
The resolutions seek a combined $82 million, according to Greg Ring, superintendent at the Educational Service Center of Lorain County.
“The state dollars following the student are one thing, but the local dollars being deducted for these students without local board approval is a huge issue,” Ring wrote in an email. “These dollars need to stay in the local districts as intended by the voters that approved the levies.”
Further frustrating district officials is that they are losing money to charters — which are publicly funded, but privately run — despite consistently outperforming them.
“Charter schools just do not perform as well as (traditional) public schools do academically, yet there are billions of dollars being funneled into this system,” Amherst superintendent Steven Sayers said. “It just doesn’t seem to make sense.”
A study of Ohio charters from 2007 to 2013 by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found 73 percent of charters trailed traditional public schools in math and 81 percent in reading. The study found 48 percent had below-average growth and achievement in math and 44 percent had below-average growth and achievement in reading.
“Overall performance trends are marginally positive, but the gains that Ohio charter school students receive even in the most recent periods still lag behind the progress of their (traditional public school) peers,” the study said. “More work is needed to ensure that charter schools are serving their students well.”
Despite under-performing, charters have strong support in the Republican-majority legislature.
While charter opponents say support for the $1 billion annual charter industry is part of an effort to privatize education (the for-profit, Virginia-based, Pansophic Learning is the biggest charter operator in Ohio), proponents say state money is needed because charters receive no levy money.
Julie Conry, spokeswoman for the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a written statement that charters, on average, receive about two-thirds of the money traditional schools get.
She noted 43 of the 65 charter school sponsors in Ohio are school districts and they received start-up money for charter schools and up to three percent in “authorizer fees” annually. However, Conry acknowledged the funding formula is adversarial and her group is open to direct funding.
“Ultimately, the focus should remain on the needs of those attending school, not where they attend,” she said. “Funding equity for all students should be the priority.”
State Sen. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), a North Olmsted Schools elementary school teacher from 1972 to 2009 and a member of the legislature’s education committee, said she spoke to Richard about the resolution.
Manning, whose district includes Oberlin, said she understands the frustration school district officials are feeling, and the irritation of taxpayers who vote for levies intending for the money to go to traditional schools.
She said school funding, ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1997 and several times since, is a “very, very difficult issue.”
While a refund is highly unlikely, Manning said a direct funding bill may be proposed in the next legislative session, which begins in January. She told us she would need to read the bill before deciding whether to co-sponsor it but said change is needed.
While the legislature is highly supportive of charters, Manning noted a law was passed to increase oversight. It was in response to last year’s omission by the department of failing grades of online charters in violation of Ohio law.
“We passed that so I have hopes we can fix this too,” she said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.