Thursday, June 7, 2012

More Ohio Charter War Collateral Damage

Today's Columbus Dispatch held a story about a situation that frankly never should have come up in the first place.

A Charter School in Cincinnati wanted to buy an old building that was owned by CPS. However, a deed restriction CPS put in there didn't allow the district to sell to a Charter School.

Yet the operators of Theodore Roosevelt Public Community School bought it for $30,000 and started to run the school out of it. CPS sued in 2009 to block the sale, based on the deed restriction. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the Charter's right to buy the building based on a state law giving Charters first crack at old school buildings.

This situation epitomizes why the Charter School Wars are harmful. First of all, it makes perfect sense for Charters to buy old school buildings that districts no longer need. One of the major issues in other states (like New York) is the lack of space Charters have.

However, this seemingly common sense marriage makes zero sense when the existence of Charter Schools put the local district in financial jeopardy. In Ohio, the way Charter Schools are funded means that every kid not in a Charter receives about 6.5% less state revenue than they otherwise would.

In the Theodore Roosevelt situation, according to the April 27 state payment forms, it receives $1,765,386.74 for the 218.13 kids it educates. That means the state pays Theodore Roosevelt $8,093.28 per pupil. After Charters like Theodore Roosevelt receive their state money, CPS is left with $2,445 per pupil from the state.

When you add the financial issues to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt is in Academic Emergency (an F) on the state report card, has a Performance Index Score of 57.2 (which rates worse than all but about 45 of Ohio's 3,625 school buildings) and has neither met Adequate Yearly Progress nor its Value Added benchmarks, you begin to understand CPS' reluctance to have Theodore Roosevelt taking its kids.

The person who started Theodore Roosevelt, Roger Connors, came from Riverside Academy, which is one of the Charters that is operated by White Hat Management -- the outfit started by Ohio's Charter School Godfather David Brennan.

Let me ask one question: would the Ohio Supreme Court be hearing this case after a three-year court battle if the Charter School funding scheme in Ohio wasn't so off kilter? Or the state had higher standards for Charter School performance? Or the goal of Charter Schools was to help, not compete with local school districts? Or the creation of Charter Schools hadn't been born out of hyper-partisan rhetoric and action?

Think about it: A school district has a building it won't use anymore. A Charter School wants to come in and operate a school there. It should be a foregone conclusion, if there was a true sense of cooperation between the two systems, that this would happen.

Instead, districts try to keep out Charters and Charters try to figure out how to wiggle their way into districts.

The outcome of the Cincinnati case isn't what really concerns me. What troubles me to no end is that 13 years into the Charter School experiment in Ohio we're having three-year court battles over whether a Charter School can operate in a school building a district no longer wants.

There have been some fences mended on this issue over the last few years, but the Cincinnati case proves one thing to me: thanks to the way Columbus politicians have hamfisted this issue for years, there is a long, long, long, long way to go before Charters and Traditional Public Schools can trust one another or work together collaboratively.

And that is truly unfortunate for the children of this state.