May 16, 2011
LIMA — Ohio House changes to Gov. John Kasich's charter school budget proposal makes way for more companies and individuals to get into the business of educating just to make a buck, local public school officials said.“Instead of your bottom line being student performance, your bottom line is how much you are going to make for yourself or for your investors,” Elida Local School District Superintendent Don Diglia said.The House proposal that would give for-profits more power to run charter schools with little oversight from sponsors isn't getting many rave reviews, including from local public school officials.The proposal permits for-profit corporations and individuals to start and run charter schools, and takes away a current requirement that they must be monitored by a sponsor.“There is confusion on my part in seeing this reversal in the thinking because so much of the research has indicated that the for-profit corporations were not getting the type of results that had once been hoped for,” Lima City School District Superintendent Karel Oxley said. “It appears to me that they are changing the thinking, but I haven't seen any evidence to demonstrate that there are grounds to do this.”Charter schools need to be held to the same set of standards as publics, Oxley said, saying the proposal seems to move even further from that. Public schools must educate all, she said, while charters can deny a pupil or send them back to the public school. As more for-profit charters open, Diglia said, more pupils will be at risk.“As charter schools continue to expand and there continues to be a lack of accountability, there are some kids who are going to get hurt because they are going to go to some schools that are only in it for the money, not in it for the kids,” he said. “And when the schools fail, they also fail the kids and that is going to hurt the community.”Lima has three charter schools: Heir Force Community school and Quest Academy are sponsored by the Lucas County Educational Service Center in Toledo, and Lima schools sponsors the West Central Learning Academy. Heir Force Director Darwin Lofton is in contact with its sponsoring consultant at least a few times a month. The consultant also attends board meetings.Lofton sees the benefits of a sponsor, including having someone who is up on content standards, academic requirements, special-education issues and new state policies.“Any charter school that starts needs to have a strong organizational knowledge and structure in terms of how to function academically,” he said. “It ensures that we are not going at this totally alone. That we are hitting various benchmarks.” Accountability is critical, Darwin said. He doesn't have a problem with a for-profit running a charter school without a sponsor as long as it can articulate what is required of schools and lead it to success.“If it can turn test scores around, improve operations of the school, ensure that kids are learning and able to grow academically, I am all for it,” he said. Under the proposal, a charter school board could give up all rights and responsibilities to an operator. Once taxpayer money is given to an operator, it is no longer considered public money. Local officials have real concern about that component.“I can't understand as an educator in an urban district how public dollars could not be considered public,” Oxley said. “These are taxpayers' dollars and to suddenly designate that they can be for private usage, is baffling.”When taxpayers approve a school levy, Diglia said, they are not voting for their money to go to a charter school.The proposal also lets sponsors oversee up to 100 charter schools apiece instead of the current 50 or 75. “When you take the cap off of how many there are, unfortunately there are going to be some people who just see it as a way to make money, and not really have the kids' best interest in mind,” Diglia said.The educational service center in Lucas County has nearly 70 charter schools across the state. Oxley said the state put the cap in place because of concerns about one entity overseeing so many schools. “They felt they were not successful and not being run in a way they felt was appropriate,” she said.Kasich has been clear about his support for school choice, but wants the additions from the House out of the final budget. Kasich has proposed lifting the cap on the state's privately operated charter schools, and increasing the number of tax-funded vouchers from 14,000 to 60,000 over the next two years.“Generally speaking, the state administration seems to be very pro-charter, which is beneficial to us,” Lofton said. “Ohio is following standards of many states throughout the nation opening up its perspective regarding traditional verses nontraditional education. Kasich is embracing that and I appreciate it. “You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.