Last year, 17 charter schools were forced to close their doors in Columbus, a new record for the city.
Jennifer Smith Richards reports in the Columbus Dispatch on some of the repercussions of charters closing up shop, often in the middle of the year:
Nine of the 17 schools that closed in 2013 lasted only a few months this past fall. When they closed, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.
But while 2013 was unusual, closings are not rare. A Dispatch analysis of state data found that 29 percent of Ohio’s charter schools have shut, dating to 1997 when the publicly funded but often privately run schools became legal in Ohio.
According to the Dispatch, many of the Columbus closures were blamed on poor sponsors. Sponsors are nonprofits or other entities like school districts that manage charter schools.
Nonprofit groups, universities, school districts and educational service centers can act as charter-school sponsors or authorizers. They’re supposed to be the gatekeepers; they decide which schools can open and whether they should close if they’re not adequately serving students.
“The way it works right now is, if a school has a sponsor and they sign a contract, that school can open,” said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education. “We don’t have any approval or denial power.”
The Ohio legislature has taken some steps to try to cut back on the number of charter school closings over the past couple of years, including limiting the number of new schools sponsors with a certain number of low-performing charters can open.
Several Ohio mayors have tried to gain greater control over the charter schools that open in their cities. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson was hoping to subject the opening of new charters in his city to a panel review process, though he now says a loophole allows charters to circumvent that, and the mayor of Columbus also wanted at one time to instill similar controls in his city.
But critics contend the closure of a record number of Columbus charter schools in 2013 is further proof that more needs to be done to vet charter school sponsors and organizers before the schools open their doors and start enrolling students, instead of waiting for them to shut down halfway through the year, leaving students stranded.