It’s been a rough school year for Columbus City Schools. The district is under investigation by the State Auditor’s office and the FBI for tampering with student attendance data and grades. Plus the district has a history of less-than-stellar academic results.
Now there’s a bill making its way through the Ohio House that aims to improve Columbus City Schools.
Earlier this year Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman convened a panel of education, community and business leaders to come up with a plan to fix the troubled district.
That panel came up with a list of recommendations. Some require changes in state law.One would let the district share voter approved levy dollars with charter schools in the district.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated schools. In Ohio, they are more commonly known as “community schools.”
“It’s not carte blanche for every charter school,” says State Rep. Cheryl Grossman, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. The Columbus Republican says charters would have to partner with the district and prove that they are worthy of the local dollars.
“That’s really important to emphasize because there are bad charter schools just as there are bad public schools,” Grossman says.
Grossman says the goal is to have all Columbus students attending an A or B rated school by 2025. That’s a lofty goal: less than a third of Columbus students attend A or B rated schools now.
“The commission acknowledges that charters are now a permanent fixture in the education landscape,” Grossman says. “They can be a critical force for helping provide an A or B rated school to every student.”
If the bill passes, Columbus would become the second Ohio district to share local levy dollars with charter schools. Cleveland is the other.
The question is, do two districts make a trend?
“It could,” says David Varda with the Ohio Association of School Business Officials. He says his group supports school reforms in Cleveland, but it does not like that bit about sharing money with charters.
“We ask that the legislature not apply that to every district in the state,” he says. “If the people in Columbus have decided that this is a plan that will allow them to make their schools better we will probably take the same position of not wanting that practice to be a statewide practice but specific to this locality’s decision on how to manage their local schools.”
Varda says it wouldn’t surprise him if at some point down the line, someone would recommend making that a statewide law.
But Columbus officials insist this bill is strictly local, and it’ll be good for the district.
“What I care about is making sure that every child in Columbus has a high quality education,” says Columbus teachers union president Rhonda Johnson. “Because our students move from our schools to charter schools and back and forth and I care about the education our students receive.”
The bill would also allow the Mayor’s office to sponsor charter schools, and it would create a new position for an outside auditor in the district – on top of the existing internal auditor.
The bill will have its third hearing next Tuesday.