Wednesday, March 11, 2020

My School My Choice Lies Again

Well, well, well. My School, My Choice – a dodgy outfit that seeks to protect profits over kids has released a candidate questionnaire filled with lies, mistruths and frankly disturbing answers from many candidates for office. I thought I should go through and show just how dishonest this questionnaire is and why we cannot let these guys return us to the days of national ridicule for our Charter School sector, which is still not awesome, but is certainly in better shape – at least in terms of accountability – than it was when these guys ran things.

Teachers union leaders often claim that public charter schools drain funds from traditional schools.
In fact, union leaders aren’t the only ones who “claim” this. Superintendents, treasurers, non-partisan analysts, Republican Education Committee Chairs and Speakers of the House have all acknowledged this fact. The other pesky thing that gets in the way of this talking point is arithmetic. Take Columbus City Schools. According to Ohio Department of Education finance reports, the state was to send $366.5 million to Columbus to educate its 72,714 students. That’s a per pupil state funding level of $5,089.28. However, when the state then removes $161 million to pay for the 19,958 students who attend charter schools from Columbus, the remaining Columbus students are left with $3,947.51 in state aid -- $1,141.77 less than the state originally intended to go to students in Columbus – money that has to be made up with local revenue or service cuts. And Columbus is not unusual. Statewide, the average per pupil state funding loss because of the charter school deduction is $198.06, which means that statewide, $314.3 million in local revenue has to be used to make up that lost revenue to children in local public schools or services get cut. In fact, there are between 80 to 100 school districts who lose overall funding because of charter schools because they don’t raise enough local revenue to make up for their state funding losses to charters.

In fact, traditional schools have more funding now than ever, while public charter schools continue to receive less funding.
The previously described phenomenon utterly shreds this canard. The average Columbus charter school student receives $8,067.28 in state funding. The average Columbus public school student receives $3,434.85 in state funding once all the charter/voucher/ESC/open enrollment deductions are included. It is precisely because charter school students receive so much more per pupil state aid than they would have received in the local public school that has led to the Cupp Patterson school funding plan to shift to a funding system that directly pays for charter school students rather than deducting the amount from kids in local public schools.

This is especially true since local tax dollars (those collected from local levies and property taxes) don’t follow public charter school students but instead stay with the traditional school district.
This isn’t even true anymore. In Cleveland, several charter schools actually do receive a share of local revenue, which voters approved many years ago. But even setting those school aside, about 1 in 10 charters spend more per equivalent pupil than school districts, even though they do not receive direct local money. More telling is this: The average charter school spends a mere $163.14 less per pupil than districts on instruction costs. However, the average charter school spends $897.12 more per pupil on non-instructional administrative costs than the average school district. Where do school districts spend more per pupil? Staff and pupil support as well as operations (busing/HVAC/etc.). But if charters would spend the same per pupil on administration that districts did, they would be able to spend more in the classroom than the average district and also spend about the same as districts on pupil and staff support. This whole argument is simply an admission that they need more money to make up for their lack of efficiency and inability to move as much money into the classroom as school districts do. The last part of this sentence also admits that charter school funding  increases the reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools – a result the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times was unconstitutional.

There is no such thing as a for-profit charter school in Ohio as all of our charter schools are PUBLIC schools. ALL public schools (traditional brick and mortar district schools and community schools) are allowed to, and most do, use for-profit companies to provide services like textbooks, transportation, food, curriculum, and management services. Despite this, some traditional opponents of public charter schools have tried to run-around free market principles by not allowing certain services to be provided by “for-profit” companies. In other words, they think that only some companies/organizations should be allowed to provide only some services to only some public schools.
Charter schools are non profit, and while they’re called “public” in statute, federal labor panels that have examined Ohio charter schools have consistently ruled they are actually run like private organizations. However, many hire for-profit companies to run the schools. 
This is also a completely misleading statement and runs afoul of the Republican Speaker of the House Larry Householder’s own statement from last year where he said he wanted to eliminate for-profit operators from running Ohio charter schools. Here’s what he said in late January 2019:
“One thing I believe we need to look at is what many states have done, and that is that charter schools are nonprofit in the state of Ohio,” said House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, addressing a long-standing controversy among Ohio’s school-choice system. “I know they are technically nonprofit, but that second tier, those management entities, I believe should be nonprofit.”
This coming from a politician who famously had to return a significant chunk of money from disgraced for-profit operator Bill Lager of the notorious ECOT online charter school. So he hasn’t hated taking for-profit charter school money. Yet now he sees it as a serious problem. He’s hardly a left wingnut. 
The question is preposterous as well. No one is saying that a school can’t buy books from a for-profit entity. What they’re saying is that for-profit companies should not be deciding how the school is run, who gets hired, who gets fired, how much to pay for leases, etc.

In the past, some have tried to balance state budgets by proposing unfair cuts for public charter school students (like during Governor Strickland’s term, when he was forced to abandon his plans, following a My School My Choice Statehouse Rally, where 4,500 school choice supporters raised their voices against such biased cuts). With difficult budgets always looming, there is concern that state legislators would consider funding public charter school students at a level less than traditional public school students as a way to decrease state spending for primary and secondary education.
This too is a lie. I know because I’m the one who restored the eSchool funding in the 2009 budget. I didn’t do it because of My School, My Choice’s rally. I did it because the Republican Senate made it clear that if they didn’t get their funding restored, the Senate wouldn’t approve a new school funding system that promised $3 billion more for Ohio’s public school students over the next 10 years. Remember this was during the Great Recession, so any potential funding delay could have been economically disastrous. What thanks did My School, My Choice give me for restoring their funding? They stalked my kids at school and my family throughout my community. It was so bad that other for-profit charter operators called and apologized for My School, My Choice’s behavior.

Ohio’s public online schools are being held accountable; the closure of some schools is proof of that. Despite that, traditional opponents of school choice, like teachers unions and some on the far-left, seek to impose new standards on public online schools different from those used to measure other public schools.
This too is a lie. The provision that required new standards for eSchools was first passed in 2003 by a Republican legislature and governor. But those standards were never adopted by the legislature. The current Republican legislature and governor also set up a task force to figure out how to hold eSchools accountable. What these guys at My School, My Choice won’t acknowledge is for-profit operators and eSchools are on the outs … with the charter school community. Why? Because they are such a performance drag on the entire charter school sector. Ohio’s eSchools are notoriously poor performing. The Ohio Virtual Academy, which was initially run by Ron Packard – the same guy who set up My School, My Choice – can’t get their diplomas accepted by the NCAA. Packard’s new school, OHDELA, has historically been the worst performing online school in the state – even worse than the notorious ECOT. The reason conservative Republican legislators want to reign in eSchools is because they have been a blight and embarrassment to the Ohio school choice community. And while left-leaning folks want that increased accountability too, it is a broad, bipartisan belief that eSchools are tremendously failing kids throughout the state. For example, while only 9 percent of Ohio charter school graduates go on to graduate from college within 6 years of high school (compared with 32.5 percent of public high school graduates), only 6 percent of Packard’s students do – a worse percentage than any major urban school district in the state, even though Packard’s students come from all over the state. A mind-shuddering 25 of 400 eligible 2012 graduates from Packard’s online operation have a college degree today. That’s why conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and nearly every other Ohioan wants tighter standards on these guys.

Here’s the thing, though. While every Democrat who answered this questionnaire disagreed with My School, My Choice’s falsehoods, all the Republicans agreed! That means they are utterly denying what their own House Speaker and other folks agree needs to be done on charters and online charters in particular. That’s why this questionnaire is revealing. And while there have been many victories for students and taxpayers on the charter school issue over the last 5-7 years, much work remains needed to keep the guys who want to make money off our kids from ruining all the progress this state has made. It wasn’t that long ago we were considered the Wild, Wild West of charter schools. And while we’re certainly not at the cutting edge, My School, My Choice seems bent on returning us to the days of embarrassing headlines and putrid reputations for this state’s. They must not succeed for our kids’ sake.

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