by Brian Washington
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When Stacy Recker heard the federal government was releasing a $71 million grant to Ohio to create more charter schools, she immediately began imagining the positive impact that type of funding could have on the vast majority of students attending the state’s public schools.
“Seventy-one million dollars means more teachers, smaller class sizes, and more time for one-on-one instruction. That’s powerful learning,” said Recker, a high school civics teacher who lives in Cincinnati. “It’s the ability to spend more time on one student’s essay and give more feedback.”
The grant, which has been in limbo for several months, will ultimately go to for-profit companies interested in starting up one or more charters in the state. Charter schools receive public funding but are often managed by for-profit companies and are not held to the same standards as traditional public schools.
Ohio’s track record with charters is not good—which is why the state has been labeled “high risk” and the grant comes with several oversight-related stipulations.
It’s been scandal, after scandal, after scandal,” said Recker. “There’s been a lot of fudging of the numbers, erasing numbers, and making sure charters look better than they are.
The state’s former school-choice chief, David Hansen, who is married to the woman who ran Governor John Kasich’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, had to resign shortly after he filed the state’s charter-grant application. He admitted he broke the law by dropping failing grades for several poor-performing charters in an effort to make them look better.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump inadvertently shined more light on Ohio’s poor charter record when he unveiled his education plan at a charter school, the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy. Trump, who said he’s going to be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice, held the event at a charter that received an “F” from the state for not meeting Ohio standards.
“I have seen no evidence that charter schools are more effective than public schools,” said Recker.
And although the state is beginning to take important steps towards more oversight and accountability, a lot of damage has already been done. In May, educators and community groups released a report (see right) that concluded that out of 292 charter schools in Ohio that have received federal funding from the Charter School Program (CSP), 108 have either shut down or never opened at all—leaving students out in the cold and taxpayers out of $30 million.
Nevertheless, the federal government is poised to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to several states that have applied for charter school grants. Grant winners are expected to be announced within the next few weeks.
And even though, at this point, it’s unclear how many will actually receive a grant, none of this sits well with Recker.
“Although they are considered public schools, in my opinion, charter schools are private schools,” said Recker. “They are run by a for-profit business. They should not receive any public funding. They are not like a public school.”