Ohio Gives Up Federal Charter Grant Funding for Poorly Rated Sponsors
The Ohio Department of Education is declining $22 million in federal charter school grant money, saying some organizations that authorize charter schools are rated too poorly to qualify.
The decision to give up federal funds comes as Ohio charters are facing increased scrutiny, including from former U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich who is on a speaking tour this week to criticize charter schools in the state.
To receive federal funds to expand charters, sponsors—school districts, public agencies and non-profit organizations that authorize charters—are supposed to be rated "effective" or "exemplary." Only five out of 65 sponsors received "effective" ratings and none were deemed exemplary in the fall, according to the Associated Press. See a list of sponsors and ratings by the Ohio Department of Education.
The Ohio education agency sent a letter earlier this month to the U.S. Department of Education, explaining that the state plans only to use $49.4 million out of $71 million granted in 2015 for charter expansions.
"While these numbers are lower than originally projected, we think the increased level of accountability will bolster the grant's purpose of creating high-quality community schools," states the letter by Steve Gratz, senior executive director of the department's center for student support and education options.
As Ohio turns away some funding, states might see more charter grants in the future. President Donald Trump's federal budget proposal would add $168 million, up from the current $333 million in the grants program.
In recent years, Ohio has been working on oversight for charters. In 2015, David Hansen, the state's school choice director, resigned after admitting he left out the failing grades of online charter schools when evaluating sponsors. See an Education Week story about online schools' attendance audits.
The Ohio department now is using a stricter rating tool for charter sponsors, which it touts as "most comprehensive sponsor evaluation systems in the country" on its website. With failing ratings in the fall, 21 were in line to possibly lose their oversight power, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Still, there is a push for more accountability.
Kucinich, who is a former Cleveland mayor and two-time candidate for president, is on a five-city tour this week to give speeches about charter schools, saying they are taking funding away from traditional public schools and pushing for changes to the state's charter law, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He also said he is exploring the possibility of filing a lawsuit to change the funding for charters, according to WOSU Public Media.
Local media and observers say Kucinich might be speaking about charter schools to garner attention for a possible run for governor, but he has not confirmed that speculation during his tour.
Ohio also got attention earlier this month when school-choice advocate and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited a traditional public school in Van Wert, Ohio, alongside Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who has been critical of DeVos.
Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].