Charter school teachers, sponsors and advocates are gathered in Columbus this week for the annual charter schools conference.
StateImpact Ohio is there as well, and got a chance to sit down for a chat with Greg Richmond, the president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
NASCA’s members oversee roughly half of all the charter schools nationwide. We spoke to Richmond about the publicly funded, privately operated schools, and how they are doing in Ohio.
Q: Charter schools have had their fair share of critics and one of the things they like to say is that there is not enough oversight of charter schools. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I think charter schools do have some opportunities to improve in Ohio. When charter schools first started in Ohio a couple years ago folks didn’t know how this was all supposed to work, and Ohio has been figuring that out. I think it would be fair to say that a few years ago Ohio was lagging the rest of the country in charter school accountability, but now with new laws put in place around automatic closure of failing charter schools, and new laws put in place around accountability for the sponsors of charter schools Ohio law is now some of the stronger laws in the country around charter school oversight and accountability.
Q: The other complaint often heard is that school funding in Ohio is already a very strained issue, and public schools say that charter school drain those already limited resources. What do you see as the future of funding for charter schools?
A: Charter schools in Ohio are funded pretty much the same way as they’re funded throughout the whole country and the idea is that schools are given taxpayer money to educate students, and if a student attends a district school or a charter school, whichever one, the money follows the student to that school. So that basic notion is a sound one, that a charter school should have access to public funds to teach a student just like a district run school would.
Everybody in the country, not just school districts, everybody is living under tough times trying to make do with less, education is part of that, but charter schools should have their fair share – no more, no less – of the taxpayer funds to educate public school students.
Q: So here in Ohio last year we saw the battle over collective bargaining, Senate Bill 5, and that’s over for now but the emotions are still very flared and high and many public school teachers seem to be almost wary of charter schools and see them almost as an assault on their collective bargaining rights and many charter schools in Ohio are not unionized. How do you see that playing out in the future?
A: There are charter schools around the country that do have unionized teachers and I think it’s really unfortunate that some people – usually for political reasons – have chosen to make charter schools a political football to be used against unions or unions to use charters to rally up their forces, so I think that’s unfortunate. Teachers should have a right to form a collective bargaining unit, if they vote to do that.
Q: In a nutshell, what makes a good charter school?
A: Well, a good charter school is run by passionate educators who really understand the kids in their school and are 100 percent committed to succeeding with those kids no matter what. And you know what there are a lot of schools in this country that you could say have educators like that, charter schools and district schools. I think what a lot of folks in education are now realizing is that we have to be agnostic about whether a school is a charter school or a district run school. We need to do more things to empower those kinds of passionate educators, allow them to be successful in their schools, whether it’s a district school or a charter school. When we do that, we’ll have more good schools for kids.
Note: An earlier version of this story stated that NACSA oversees roughly half the charter schools in the country. It is actually NACSA’s members that this statistic is referring to.