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Policy Group: Charter School Funding Hurts Public School Students

Public school advocates say they have the numbers to prove the funding system for charter schools hurts public school students. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

More than $415 million flowed out of traditional public schools in Ohio in the last school year when students leave them to attend charter schools – and the money goes with them to those charters. That total comes from the liberal-leaning group Innovation Ohio, which broke down the numbers of what it calls a flawed funding system diverting money from public schools to charters.  
Stephen Dyer, Innovation Ohio’s education policy fellow, said the funding per student goes down 6.2% when that money leaves.  
“Too infrequently we have discussed what impact charter school funding has had on kids who aren’t in charter schools,” said Dyer.  
Dyer said that the per-pupil funding reduction is much higher while taking a closer look at individual school districts. Columbus City Schools, by his count, loses 30% of their state revenue to charters. Dyer also pointed to Woodridge Local Schools, just north of Akron, which he said loses 36% of its state revenue.  
The state’s largest teachers union, the Ohio Education Association, is also calling on a reform to the funding process. Vice President Scott DiMauro said changing the system is right up there with strengthening charter school accountability.  
“Our elected leaders also need to take a close look at how charter schools are funded and stop penalizing local school districts by taking locally generated dollars away from students who choose to remain in the traditionally public school,” DiMauro said.  
Chad Aldis is with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. His group is a vocal advocate for charter schools but agrees with measures to increase accountability and transparency. Aldis said the formula Innovation Ohio is using to break down its numbers is essentially simplifying a very complex funding process.  
“It’s almost intentionally disregarding the way the school funding formula works and because of that I just don’t think it’s intellectually honest,” said Aldis.  
Aldis said it’s more accurate to look at total taxpayer dollars going towards education. In that case, according to Aldis, charter schools receive about 78 cents to every dollar given to a traditional public school.  
So while the Fordham Institute and Innovation Ohio may argue over the statistical break down—they both say the state could use a new funding scheme, such as allowing the state to directly fund charters without going through the traditional school districts. But Aldis says there’s a catch.  
“You would have to do it in a way that would not allow a future administration that might be adverse to charter schools or an ideological opponent to line item veto them,” explained Aldis.  
The top leader on education in the Ohio Senate, Republican Peggy Lehner of Kettering, agreed that the way the state funds charters is a complicated one. Lehner is a supporter of charter schools. But she added that she’s hearing an increasing call for direct funding.  
“So that we aren’t kind of playing this shell game where money goes in and back out and we just clearly know exactly how much state dollars are going to a charter school,” Lehner said.  
Lehner said that’s an issue the Legislature could address during the year and a half remaining in this session of the General Assembly.  
But another measure looming before lawmakers is the charter school accountability reform in the form of House Bill 2. The Senate sent it back to the House which didn’t move on it before going on summer break.  
Democratic lawmakers and liberal think tanks have strongly criticized legislators for failing to bring the bill to a vote. Republican Senate President Keith Faber of Celina said it’s important for leaders to take their time on the bill to avoid any unintended consequences.  
“I am concerned that we do things the accountability on those issues but I’m also concerned that we don’t try and throw the baby out with the bathwater and do one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Faber.  
Faber would like to see that bill pass by the end of September.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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