Part 3: The Charters – Final In Our Series on Recent School Funding Hearing

In the final part of IO’s coverage of last week’s hearing on school funding in the Ohio House, I want to recount one of the most problematic, yet also encouraging portions: charter schools. You may read Part 1 and Part 2 by following the links.

While the panel of Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute, Students First (Michelle Rhee’s group) and Marguerite Roza of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which provided the blueprint for the Cleveland Plan, all made encouraging statements about the need for charter and traditional public school accountability to be the same, there remain deeply troubling issues.

  • They said money should follow the child. There is a big problem with that in Ohio because we know from Ohio Department of Education data that kids not in charter schools lose 6.5% of their state revenue, on average, because of how much more the state pays for charter school kids. Money follows the child leaving for a charter school in Ohio, as does significant money from kids who don’t leave for a charter school. If the “money follows the child” system the state develops next year (a near certainty) ends up leaving kids who don’t go to charter schools with significantly fewer resources; that is a major problem. The witnesses never mentioned the potential impact on kids who don’t go to charters.
  • Students First also suggested that charter schools should get School Facilities Commission money to help pay for their buildings. That’s something I hadn’t heard said before in public. I had heard about how charters need help with capital expenses, and I tend to agree with that, in principle. However, whenever more money goes to charters in Ohio, it seems to come out of the hides of the 90% of Ohio’s children who do not go to charter schools. So I’m always wary of proposals like these.
  • If charters are able to get OSFC money, and collect local revenue without any reduction in their state amount (like the Cleveland Plan allowed Cleveland charters to do), then we are looking at major increases in charter school revenue. And without any increased state commitment to education, which is looking more and more to be next year’s scenario as Gov. Kasich seems bent on using any additional revenue to fund a modest income tax cut, it means the money will come straight out of the pockets of kids who do not go to charter schools.

At the end of the day, there was a lot of talk about children in charter schools needing more revenue. But there was zero talk of children in traditional public schools needing more revenue. If anything, there were suggestions that students in traditional public schools should do fine with what they have and could even do with less.

If more state revenue will help charter school kids, why won’t it help my two children, or your children, who do not go to charter schools? If money really doesn’t help improve achievement, why do charter schools need more money, especially when they were sold as being able to do the job better and cheaper? Only 23 of the 300+ charters in this state do better than the average school district on the Performance Index Score. As for being cheaper, a recent Ohio Department of Education analysis shows that brick-and-mortar charters in fact spend $54 more per pupil than traditional public schools overall.

My bottom line on Wednesday’s hearing was this: There are areas of potential agreement on items that will really help kids. Things like early childhood education, wraparound services, and accounting for things in the formula like poverty, which we know impacts student success, are all ideas I think everyone agrees will help.

However, this dogmatic adherence to the idea that the biggest impediment to good test scores is bad teachers, not the tests themselves whose results are so determined by demographics is a non-starter. Or that money should follow the kid, even if it leaves other kids behind – or that charters need more money, but public schools can do with less, leaves me in a weird place. I’m excited about the areas of agreement. But I fear the areas of concern are so great they will swamp any of the positive work.

Let’s hope I’m wrong.