The plan pushed by Jackson and the Cleveland school district originally called for a locally appointed panel of district, charter, community and business leaders to review applications for new charter schools in Cleveland to determine if they meet basic educational and financial standards, then block schools that don't.
After strong objections from charter supporters, the compromise between Jackson and legislators – the details of which are unclear while legislation is drafted – calls for the local panel and the Ohio Department of Education to review sponsors wanting to open schools in Cleveland to make sure they meet standards set by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
If the legislation passes in Columbus, all of the current sponsors of charter schools in Cleveland can continue starting schools for now, but will have to be reviewed using the national standards when their sponsor licenses with the state expire.This is a classic Ohio Charter School Lobby maneuver: weaken the law, then make current sponsors and Charters essentially exempt from even the weakened law. Amazing. This is what happened with eSchools and Dropout Recovery Schools (both of which are cash cows for Charter School megalith David Brennan). And it is a virtual certainty that any strengthening of Charter School laws will probably not apply to the 90% of Charter Schools in this state that currently do not rate in the top half of all school districts on the Performance Index Score. All traditional school districts lose kids and money to Charter Schools now, according to state data, so they should be compared accordingly.
Oh, and it appears that under the Cleveland Plan, Charters will be able to receive local revenue on top of receiving more than double the per pupil amount from the state that their traditional school counterparts receive. By the way, I fully expect that provision to apply to current Charter Schools statewide in next year's budget.
I was encouraged to see an Ohio newspaper not located in Akron explain that Ohio's Charter School laws are way outside the norm nationally. Only Minnesota allows non-profits to sponsor Charter Schools like Ohio does, for example.
"Cleveland is unusual in having nine different agencies approving charters in one city," said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. "Too many authorizers is not a good thing."
The Cleveland school district itself sponsors only six charter schools, five of which are managed by the Breakthrough charter organization.
That's a far cry from cities like Baltimore, where all 33 charter schools operating there were created through the school district. And Philadelphia, where all 80 were authorized by the school district and Chicago, whose 38 charter schools were all authorized through the school district.
Or consider New York City, which has three agencies authorizing and overseeing 122 charter schools – the district, the state department of education or the State University of New York.When you couple this sponsorship anomaly with the fact that the way Ohio funds Charter Schools means that kids in traditional public schools receive $235 less state money per pupil ($264 million total) because Charters divert so much state money from districts, and you see why Ohio has struggled so mightily to integrate its Charter Schools into the system.
I eagerly await the language on this and the remainder of the Cleveland Plan, which is set to be voted on in a couple weeks.
I remain extremely concerned about the dangerous precedent of allowing Charters to collect local revenue without their state revenue being adjusted accordingly, just as traditional schools' state money is adjusted. I'm also concerned about this watered down version of the Transformation Alliance. Added to the fact that it wouldn't be able to do anything with eSchools, which (as I've mentioned earlier) take more Cleveland kids than any single Charter School in the district, I'm wondering whether the Alliance will have any impact on improving Charter School performance.
There remains hope in the Cleveland Plan. Ensuring all 3 and 4 year olds attend pre-school, while creating Early Learning Academies to support the early, incredibly important learning years, can really help kids succeed. However, with zero state property tax relief supporting this plan and forcing an even greater property tax burden on folks in a district that make a median salary of $22,600, I fear those great promises will never be realized.
But there's always hope.