Monday, March 4, 2019

Ohio Charters need a 22% Raise? Really?

Now that the Cleveland Plain Dealer has reported just how much more charter schools are demanding they be paid -- a staggering $2,000 per pupil -- I think it's fair to say that their request is a tall order.

If that increase had been granted this past school year, it would have cost the state another $208.8 million -- making the program cost taxpayers $1.1 billion.

How one could look at the above chart of state report card grades and call that increase justifiable, I have no idea. Especially when we are poised to have the most serious attempt in a decade at fixing school funding for the 90 percent of students attending local public schools.

Not only have Ohio charter schools not gotten appreciably better on the report card since House Bill 2 passed in 2015, but since the 2012-2013 school year, charter schools overall have received more Fs than all other grades combined on state report cards. This "House Bill 2 has fixed everything" mantra really bothers me. Even at the time, no one suggested that the fixes in HB 2 were a panacea. In many ways, the changes just caught us up to national norms.

Yet now those rather modest reforms are being used as justification for a massive new influx of your tax dollars.

Here's another complication: the average charter school spends about $400 more per student already. And they spend about $1,000 more per student on non-instructional administrative costs, eclipsing almost 25 percent of their total expenditure. So if they have another $2,000 per student to spend, their current spending patterns would place about $500 of that on administrators. The average school district would spend about half of that.

I hate to bring this up, but whenever charters ask for more money, I'm haunted by our past. As told in the groundbreaking and seminal report on Ohio's charter school roots, Akron Beacon Journal reporters Doug Oplinger and Dennis Willard -- using memos written by Akron businessman and Ohio school choice Godfather David Brennan -- described why Brennan switched from running voucher schools to charter schools:
"Why did Brennan give up on vouchers?
In his two Cleveland Hope schools, he was receiving more state aid per pupil than 85 percent of the public school children in Ohio. But it wasn’t enough to turn a profit.
Only nine weeks into the voucher program, Brennan began to lobby for a 44 percent increase -- or $1,100 -- in the value of vouchers. Brennan told the governor in writing that he was subsidizing his two voucher schools out of his own pocket. Some of that money came out of the Brennan Family Foundation, IRS records show.
In January 1998, Brennan wrote to Needles of the governor’s office and two new confidants -- state school board members Charles Byrne and Joseph Roman -- telling them that if the state didn’t raise the value of vouchers to an amount similar to charter-school funding, he was switching.
“I have indicated to you that the temptation to convert the operations at HOPE Central Academy and HOPE Tremont Academy is almost irresistible because of the higher funding from the community schools,” he told them.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Brennan gave a different reason. He said opponents of school choice made vouchers “a dirty word. Charters are a compromise to vouchers.”
But the numbers are revealing. By switching, he increased his state aid per pupil from about $3,000 in the voucher schools and $600 at Interfaith to at least $4,400 and possibly as high as $6,000. (emphasis added)"
Within a few short years of this switch, Brennan was the dominant charter school operator in Ohio and even the country on his way to becoming the single largest donor to Ohio Republicans the state has ever seen.

I know it's popular for charter proponents to pooh-pooh my and others' concerns about charters asking for more money. But as you can see, the history here isn't great. And when charters continue to not perform very well overall, and then demand pay raises over 22 percent, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on top of the nearly $1 billion they already spent on these schools, is it understandable why we balk at that suggestion?

6 comments:

  1. Hi Stephan - thank you for the post. Do you know which A-F letter grade is being used in the graph above? Overall letter grades were not provided for many of the years in the graph. Thanks!

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