School choice matters, but so does accountability

By Greg Ring - Superintendent, Educational Service Center of Lorain County

For many years, Ohio’s parents have had a choice of where to send their children to school — private secular schools, church schools, public school open enrollment (intra- and inter-district), and homeschooling. While I support school choice, I do oppose the way Ohio has more recently implemented the concept, which has led to Ohio’s system being the butt of national jokes.

The problem in Ohio is that the charter school choices offered to parents are inferior overall to local public schools, costs the state far more to operate, forces districts to raise more local property taxes, and misspends taxpayer money at an astonishing rate.

Ohio’s charter schools take far more kids from school districts that outperform the charter than the other way round. They spend nearly three times as much on administration than the average school district. They spend more per pupil overall than traditional school districts. And because the state pays about twice as much per pupil for the typical charter school kid than the typical traditional public school kid, kids not in charters get several hundred dollars less in state revenue than the state says they need.

And consider that in Ohio, no entity audited by the state misspends money at a higher rate than charter schools. And it’s not even close.

They also operate in the dark. Newspapers called several charter schools recently and found that three out of four charter schools wouldn’t answer five simple questions:

• Who runs the building?

• Who is that person’s supervisor?

• Who is the management company in charge?

• How does one contact the school board?

• When does the board meet?

Can you imagine the uproar if three out of four public school districts failed to answer these questions? Are these the actions of “public” schools, as charters insist they are?

School law has been cynically put together over the years, not designed to really improve educational opportunities for kids. There are a few examples of Ohio charter schools that perform the way we were told they would — as incubators of innovation that can provide needed opportunities for kids who may not be able to receive those experiences otherwise.

But the fact that only a couple handfuls of Ohio charter schools fit this description, while the remaining 350 or so do not, proves to me that the system was never designed to grow these high-performing charter schools.

I’m encouraged that the state has decided to begin cracking down on failing charters with the passage of House Bill 2, but there are real questions about whether the Ohio Department of Education will get the implementation right.

And it’s encouraging that the Ohio legislature now recognizes that the way charters are funded hurts local school districts and taxpayers. They’re actually trying to fix the system.

While I appreciate National School Choice Week president Andrew Campanella’s call to celebrate choice this month, the Ohio experience is a warning to all those who believe that choice itself is the answer. Choice without regulation doesn’t work. None other than the executive director of the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at the free market-based Hoover Institution at Stanford University said so in Cleveland last year.

“It’s the only industry/sector where the market doesn’t work,” Macke Raymond told the Cleveland Press Club. She went on to later explain that parental choice has not been the quality control people expected.

In my mind, the fact that lots of people choose to send their kids to charter schools here is similar to movie quality. Millions of people choose to watch “Sharknado.” But that doesn’t make it a good movie.

By Greg Ring

Superintendent, Educational Service Center of Lorain County