Charter School Reform Needed
Failing Schools Require More Oversight, Higher Standards

For many families, the end of summer marks the beginning of a new school year and the renewed promise of a younger generation learning the skills and knowledge to meet the future with a determination to succeed. 

Public education is the cornerstone of civil society. It meets students from all backgrounds with an equal opportunity to learn, grow and build character that lasts a lifetime – or at least it should. 

But over the last several years, the charter school industry has exploded in our state, siphoning over $1 billion from traditional schools with the promise of hope and choice for underserved families and children. It is now becoming apparent: that promise is broken. 

Recently, the former state School Choice Director David Hansen was forced to resign after admitting he illegally manipulated a key evaluation of charter school oversight agencies by omitting failing grades from many online charters. The deliberate omission by officials boosted the ratings of two oversight agencies, potentially qualifying them for new state perks. 

This scandal at the Ohio Department of Education is indicative of Ohio’s broader failure to hold charter schools to the same standards and rules that traditional public schools use to ensure accountability in school administrative offices and classrooms across the state. 

Ohio’s systemic failure has even led The National Association of Charter School Authorizers – a vehemently pro-charter group – to dub Ohio the “wild west” of charter schools. 

The “wild west” moniker accurately captures the failures of a broken system that extend beyond one state administrator scrubbing state grades in favor charters. For instance, last fall an investigation by the Auditor of State found significantly lower attendance in half of the 30 schools where auditors conducted unannounced head counts. The state relies on attendance figures to calculate the amount of state aid to the schools. The money keeps flowing. 

But the roots of accountability for a broken charter school system run deeper than the state education department or charter schools themselves. Indeed, the governor and the legislature must meet the responsibility of fixing a failed system. In the legislature, we came close to doing just that, until eleventh hour handwringing from House Republicans killed action on a reform bill before the start of the new school year. 

The legislature failed to act on an important charter reform measure before breaking for the summer recess. Although far from perfect, House Bill 2 would have been a solid step in the right direction toward changing how private, for-profit charter schools operate in Ohio. 

I believe Ohioans deserve responsible stewardship of their hard-earned tax dollars, and families deserve better performance and accountability from the schools that are tasked with educating our children. The current troubles of the charter school system in Ohio demand immediate and substantive action. 

I hope that when the legislature returns to session charter reform is at the top of the agenda. Our children always should be. 

--State Rep. Mike O’Brien, 64th Ohio House District

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