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Ohio Lawmakers Make Bipartisan Push for More Charter School Oversight

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Ohio state lawmakers are making a big push for charter school reform this session.

Two state senators—one Democrat and one Republican—introduced a bill that would require more transparency and oversight in the state's charter sector.

Another bill designed to increase regulation of Ohio charter schools has already passed the House, although this new senate bill goes several steps further, according to the Associated Press.

Much of the force behind this latest piece of legislation comes from Republican state Sen. Peggy Lehner, the head of the chamber's education committee, who is calling the bill the biggest makeover of the state's charter law in over a dozen years. Democratic state Sen. Tom Sawyer is co-sponsoring the bill. The proposed legislation also incorporates recommendations from the state's auditor general, David Yost, reports The Columbus Dispatch:

"Key among them is a requirement that for-profit and nonprofit operators—groups that are paid most of a school's state funding to run the day-to-day operations of the school—must provide more detailed accounting of their spending. Yost and others have argued that there is not enough transparency about how state money is being spent by the operators."

The bill also aims to stop a practice known as authorizer or sponsor shopping, in which charter schools avoid getting shut down by switching among the groups that approve and oversee them. There are over 350 charter schools in Ohio divided among nearly 70 different sponsors. For comparison, there are about half as many authorizers in two neighboring states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and eight in Indiana.

The proposed legislation doesn't stop there; It would also cut the amount of money charter board members can earn for their work and requires them to complete a criminal background check.

But it's not all rules and regulations for Ohio's charters. The bill would also help high-performing charter schools get access to buildings—something that's a constant challenge for independent schools.

For a more complete list of what the bill tackles, check out The Columbus Dispatch story.

Reforming Ed Reform

Ohio's charter schools have been the focus of a lot of scrutiny lately, and pressure has been steadily building from multiple groups to retool the state's charter law.

Advocates say that in many ways Ohio's charter sector is the product of an approach often described as "let a thousand flowers bloom." While that approach can provide opportunity for charters, it has also been blamed for some of the persistent school quality problems in states that were early charter school adopters.

The idea behind the approach was to approve lots of schools, and see what worked. But without more sophisticated authorizing practices, advocates for more oversight argue, there was no mechanism in place to weed out the bad operators. And so, some say, is the case in Ohio.

A recent study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that the state's charter school students, on average, learn less in a year than their peers in regular, district schools. The study was commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education reform think tank and advocacy organization whose Ohio-based sister-organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, sponsors some schools in the state.

Following the report's release last December, Ohio governor John Kasich called for a rewrite to the state's charter law.

Related: Growth of Ohio Charter Schools Slows Following Rocky 2014


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