Jeffrey K. Lewis
Superintendent, Xenia Community Schools
Since the beginning of the charter school movement in Ohio -- in our state they're called community schools -- there have been incredible stories of financial mismanagement, academic mediocrity and ruthless profiteering.
There is also a misperception about what the charter schools. Some of our folks believe they are private schools and therefore exclusive or better. They are actually public schools that have received charters to operate from the Ohio Department of Education.
The sad state of the charter school movement in our state began because charter schools were granted before reasonable accountability systems were put into place. At the same time, many of the "regulations" placed upon traditional school districts have not been expected of the charters. These include teacher licenses and the student testing programs.
Imagine if a typical school district ran its school for the objective of making money. There would be incredible outrage. As much as I dislike the prospect of pounding levy signs in the ground to promote a Xenia levy, I disdain the fact that charter schools bleed some of those funds. Those schools do not have to convince any local group of their need.Ê As parasites, they will take the funding regardless of the levy results.
These schools also have failed in many cases to be good financial stewards. Just recently, the State of Ohio filed a $1.4 million recovery fee against a defunct charter school in Cleveland. That school shut down last fall. In addition, last fall three charter school operators were indicted for defrauding the state out of $2.9 million. The schools, however, are funded very well. In addition to state and local tax dollars, charter schools also receive extensive federal funding. Two years ago, they received more than $44 million in federal funds. The financial impact on districts, primarily urban, is staggering. In 2004-05, Dayton City Schools realized $42 million in reductions for charters, while the Cincinnati's school district amount was $43 million.
There are two basic types of charter schools: brick and mortar schools and electronic or e-schools. Initially created to provide attractive alternatives to traditional programs, some have met the educational objectives and have succeeded in giving parents/students viable alternatives. Most have not. Consider, data from Local Report Cards show that traditional public schools outperform charter schools in each of the 21 proficiency and achievement tests. On the 2005-06 Ohio Report Cards, 30 community schools rated excellent; 16, effective; 87, continuous improvement; 46, academic watch and 81, academic emergency. Because of incomplete data, 35 schools were not even rated.
The electronic schools have become a source of concern and controversy. Estimated that the annual cost to educate a student in these schools is $2,000, the schools earn $5,300 from the State. That's a $3,300 profit. As a result, there are some e-school "leaders" making millions of dollars from this business venture. One of the biggest programs in Ohio, White Hat Management, brought in about $1 million in 2005-06 through its schools. The State Auditor has not completed an audit on this organization, but critics believe the charter schools profit was about $20 million in 2005-06. There is even an e-school based in Canada!
I applaud Governor Strickland's plan to place a moratorium on charter schools in Ohio. Until accountability measures are in place and funding and operational connections alive and well, the mediocrity, corruption and profiting will continue.
Please consider contacting your local legislator to share your opinions and concerns regarding charter schools. It's the least we can do for our communities and our students.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Disturbing Charter School Facts
Superintendent Jeffrey Lewis on the charter school scam in Ohio: