Ohio State Senators Peggy Lehrner (R-Kettering) and Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) were joined Thursday by a diverse group of stakeholder groups at the Statehouse as they announced the introduction of charter school reform legislation, Senate Bill 148 and HB 2, which they claim will increase accountability and transparency for charter school sponsors and management companies in Ohio.
Charter schools have become a hot-button topic in recent years for many reasons, including graft and corruption, poor attendance records, staffing problems and sponsors who can hide much of what they do by law. Gov. John Kasich finally promised to stop the giveaway of taxpayer dollars, which last biennium was just south of $1 billion. But it appears a bi-partisan group of legislators are taking leadership on the issue above and beyond what the governor wanted to do.
“This bill takes a significant step towards charter school regulatory reform by closing loopholes, eliminating conflicts of interest, increasing charter school sponsorship standards, and most notably increasing charter school operator transparency,” Senator Sawyer said today. “It is our belief that bad charter schools have a negative effect on the best and the brightest, and it is our intent to ensure that high performing charter schools can continue to serve as examples of high quality education.”
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) also attended today’s announcement. Schiavoni, who was again elected to lead the 10-member minority caucus, said he’s advocated for charter school reform through legislation since 2011. He and others applauded the efforts of Senators to increase charter school accountability and transparency. “I am glad to see the introduction of this bipartisan bill that will reveal more information to the public and have more accountability regarding taxpayers investments to the Ohio education system,” he said in prepared remarks.
Schiavoni fully understands that this single bill is not a panacea for all the problems that plague Ohio’s nationally ridiculed charter school system, and there are many to grapple with, including whether sponsors get to keep as the property they purchased with taxpayer dollars. Nonetheless, he believes the bill moves in the right direction, saying: “as legislators it is our job to create a quality education system that provides all children an opportunity to succeed.”
Provisions within Senate Bill 148 that address charter school accountability and transparency include the following [Source: Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus]
Requires a management company that receives more than 20% of the annual gross revenues of a charter school to provide a detailed accounting including the nature and costs of the goods and services it provides to the school using the accounting principles and standards set forth in all applicable pronouncements of the governmental accounting standards board.
Requires all new and renewed agreements between the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and a sponsor to contain specific language addressing the parameters under which ODE can intervene and revoke sponsorship authority, and permits modification of the agreement under circumstances of poor fiscal management and lack of academic progress.
Prohibits a person who has engaged in an act that would otherwise result in refusal, limitation or revocation of a license to teach from serving on the governing authority of a charter school.
Prohibits a person who has been charged with or pleaded guilty to certain theft offenses from serving on the governing authority of a charter school.
Prohibits a person from serving on the governing authority or engaging in the financial management of the charter school unless that person has submitted to a criminal records check.
Removes all references to the charter school attendance policy requiring automatic withdrawal of a student if the student fails to participate in 105 consecutive hours of learning, and instead clarifies that a charter school must adhere to the same attendance standard as traditional school districts.
Requires ODE to annually publish a directory of the names and identifying information of all operators.
Requires ODE to annually obtain a copy of each contract between a governing authority and its operator.
Requires the governing authority of each charter school to adopt an annual budget by October 31 of each year, and specifies what information must be included (administrative costs, instructional services costs, etc).