It is generally understood in Ohio that charter schools are only popping up in the lowest-performing districts in the state.  The Ohio Department of Education explains this very simply on its website as follows:

According to Ohio laws, sponsors may consider [challenged districts] as potential sites for Community Schools. Newly created new start-up community schools may be started in challenged districts only and the list represents all districts meeting that definition for the 2012-2013 school year.

This is spelled out in legalese in section 3314.02 of the Ohio Revised Code, which is lengthy, but which essentially states a few important details about starting and operating charter schools in Ohio:

  • Any person or group of individuals may the establishment of a new start-up school to be located in a challenged school district.
  • Existing charter schools in districts that once met the legal requirements are “grandfathered” in and may continue operating (as long as they meet other legal requirements to remain open).
  • “Challenged school district” can be described as one of the large urban school districts, a district that has been in “academic emergency” or “academic watch” for multiple recent years, a district that receives grades of “D” or “F” for their performance index or value-added grades under the new report card for multiple years, or a district ranking in the lowest 5% of school districts statewide in performance index score.

As a result of these rules, most people assume (generally correctly) that charter schools are only located in areas with low-scoring schools.  That first assumption leads to a second assumption — that charter school students are only pulled from those same low-scoring schools and/or districts.  That second assumption is very, very wrong.

While a charter school is limited as to where it may be located geographically, state law permits that school to open enrollment to students from outside of that area — to students in adjacent districts and even to students from across the state (think e-schools).  This choice isn’t made by the legislature, the districts, nor the Ohio Department of Education, but is left up to the discretion of the charter school operator!

Two sections of Ohio Revised Code detail this option for charter schools – sections 3314.03 & 3314.06.

The relevant parts from 3314.03:

(A) Each contract entered into between a sponsor and the governing authority of a community school shall specify the following:

(19) A provision requiring the governing authority to adopt a policy regarding the admission of students who reside outside the district in which the school is located. That policy shall comply with the admissions procedures specified in sections 3314.06 and 3314.061 of the Revised Code and, at the sole discretion of the authority, shall do one of the following:

(a) Prohibit the enrollment of students who reside outside the district in which the school is located;

(b) Permit the enrollment of students who reside in districts adjacent to the district in which the school is located;

(c) Permit the enrollment of students who reside in any other district in the state.

From 3314.06:

The governing authority of each community school established under this chapter shall adopt admission procedures that specify the following:

(C) Whether enrollment is limited to students who reside in the district in which the school is located or is open to residents of other districts, as provided in the policy adopted pursuant to the contract.

As a result of this loophole in state law that allows charter school operators to determine their own enrollment boundaries, 610 out of the 614 school districts in Ohio directly lost students and state funding to one or more charter schools last year.  That means that while charters are theoretically supposed to be providing an educational option to those students in the state’s lowest scoring schools, they are actually pulling children and resources from over 99% of Ohio’s school districts, including the highest-graded districts from across the state.

While we let that information sink in, we’re working on a follow-up post where we will publish the full list of Ohio school districts in the state along with the specific number of students they lost to charter schools.  Alongside those statistics, we’ll also publish the astonishing state funding amounts that those districts lost to charters because of this legal loophole.  In 580 of those 610 school districts that lost students to charters (95%), the charter school received a higher rate of state funding per student than the student’s home district!