By Brian Washington and Bob Tate
Take Action ›
Don’t miss out on the kind of education, legislative and political news you can only get with EdVotes. Click here ›
In Mansfield, Ohio, the beginning of the school year is not the only time educators see new faces in the classroom.
According to Brad Strong, an educator with 21 years experience in the city’s school district, it also happens right after the holiday break in December. He says that’s when the charter schools in his district start shedding those students who may be discipline problems or present other challenges to learning.
“I think it is out and out discrimination. That’s what it is,” said Strong, who was born and raised outside Mansfield. “They discriminate against minorities. They discriminate against special needs students. I think they discriminate against kids who have any sort of issue that might present a challenge in the classroom.”
Charter schools are funded using taxpayer dollars. But unlike neighborhood schools, charters underserve English learners and students with disabilities, especially students with more severe disabilities. Some charter chains touted as “high performing” are known to have high student attrition rates. And many charter schools have high staff turnover rates. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education, taking note of the growing debate, issued guidance this month confirming that the same federal civil rights laws that apply to public schools apply equally to public charter schools.
Strong thinks the ones in his district need more oversight and accountability and should be held to the same high standards as traditional public schools.
In Ohio, they (charter schools) don’t have to have certified educators. We (traditional public schools) get dinged if we have teachers who are not certified. Instead, it seems they get more money. They have a whole different set of rules.
Problems proliferate in current charter school landscape
Charter schools were originally intended to be a place where educators could explore new methods of teaching, which is why they were exempt from many of the rules and regulations governing traditional public schools. Charter schools can be managed under contract by non-profit organizations or private companies.
Nationwide, an estimated 6,400 charter schools enroll upward of 2.5 million students. But according to federal education officials, the growth of charter schools nationwide has been accompanied by a steady increase in the number of complaints.
In fact, a new report cites more than $100 million in losses to taxpayers due to what it calls “waste, fraud, and abuse” within the nation’s charter schools. Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud and Abuse looks at 15 states, including Ohio, that have seen significant growth in the number of charter schools. The report outlines several causes for the problems, including:
- Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain
- School revenue being used illegally to support other charter operator businesses
- Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger, and
- Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided.
The report makes several recommendations linked to more oversight and transparency, including having states explicitly declare that charter schools are public schools and are subject to the same non-discrimination and transparency requirements as are other public-funded schools.
The National Education Association represents about 3 million educators nationwide and supports quality public education for all students, regardless of whether they attend traditional, magnet or charter public schools.
In a recent letter to the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10), NEA also stressed the need for accountability and transparency but also cautioned lawmakers about thinking of charters schools as a silver bullet.
NEA supports high-quality charter schools that operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable to parents and taxpayers; ensures equity and access; and solicits and benefits from the input from parents, educators, and the communities they serve. We caution, however, that charter schools are not a panacea for solving all education challenges.
Where do we begin to improve charter school quality?
Nationally,charters have a 10 percent revocation rate, costing taxpayers billions of dollars that did not result in better schools for students. Federal and state taxpayers spent more than $2 billion on charter schools that closed over a 10-year period in the state of Texas alone. The situation has prompted NEA to press for closer scrutiny of charter applications by charter “authorizers,” in many cases local school boards or state education agencies, as designated in states with charter laws.
When authorizers do a persistently poor job of vetting initial charter applications, the likelihood of poor academic or financial performance increases. This raises the spectre of possible charter revocations, which are highly disruptive to students, families and communities.
Often times, students from closed charter schools return to traditional public schools, but, with a lag in financial resources returning to the traditional school, the end result is more disruption.
Yet, states have failed to revoke or suspend the privileges of authorizers whose decisions have led to such consequences. However, NEA has succeeded in tasking states with establishing criteria for authorizer revocation in the most recent charter schools legislation considered on Capitol Hill.
Even some leading charter school advocates are calling for more oversight — going against concerns from some critics that more regulation might hamper innovation.
“People usually pass laws as a way to deal with real problems, of which there are plenty in the charter sector,” wrote Robin Lake with the Center for the Revitalization of Public Education. “The sector will not help itself, or children, by wishing away those problems, or those laws.”
Strong, who belongs to the Ohio Education Association (OEA), an NEA affiliate, says OEA has also asked Gov. John Kasich and the state legislature to impose more oversight on charter schools, but he says those requests have been ignored.
His hope is that this November voters will give the state a governor who understands why charter schools need to uphold the same standards for quality assurance and protections that cover students, parents, and taxpayers as those governing traditional public schools.
“Absolutely,” said Strong. “That’s the only way to ensure that the students who attend these schools are getting a quality public education and taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely.”