With another Ohio charter school shutting down this week, those in Columbus who want to reduce the number of failing charter schools through tighter regulation say they’re feeling ignored and frustrated.
The VLT Academy in Cincinnati is the 22nd community school to close this fiscal year.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman (near Youngstown) says in the last two sessions of the General Assembly, he’s proposed three bills that he says would bring more accountability and transparency to Ohio’s charters schools.
But none of those bills have gotten much attention, he says. In fact, the last two haven’t even gotten a hearing.
Schiavoni says he’s reached out to Senate Education Committee Chairman Peggy Lehner, a Republican of Kettering, who has said she supports the idea behind those bills.
“When we talked in the spring she told me directly and point blank that this was going to be a project that we were going to work on over the summer and we were going to get back to it in the fall,” Schiavoni says.
“But to hear nothing over the summer, with all the things that are going on, it’s troubling to me. So I think if you talk to legislators in the hallway, they’ll tell you that the issue needs to be addressed, but for one reason or another, it’s not being [addressed].”
Schiavoni said he’s written and called Lehner, but gotten no response.
Lehner’s explanation is that she’s been traveling out of the country for the last month.
Lehner says she supports taking a new look at charter school laws, and that she told Schiavoni she’s willing to work with him on the issue. But because there are a lot of “vested interests” involved, Lehner says she’s convened a group of people she calls education thought leaders (most of them Democrats) to look over the state’s charter school laws.
But she says there won’t be an attempt to change those laws now or in the lame duck session after the November election.
“I just don’t think that’s appropriate, and I think that invites more bad law, frankly,” she says. “So I’m sort of looking at legislation to be introduced at the beginning of next year or whenever it’s ready and we’re just going to take our time and we’re going to do this right.”
Lehner admits a skeptic might see this as an election year tactic. Though she’s not on the ballot herself, half of her Senate colleagues and the entire Ohio House are. But Lehner says the issue is complicated and needs time to be done right.
“I just think that there’s too much at stake to be doing this in a way that is something that you can wave your flag at at election time. I’m trying to remove it from the election process”
She adds, “Sure, we could come up with a model law that people could either support or fight as an election issue. I just think this deserves better than that.”
But Schiavoni says kids in failing charter schools don’t care about election year politics, and that time is ticking away for them.
“It’s not a political thing,” he says.
“I mean, if you have – think about a kid that’s about to go to school, and now he can’t go to school with his friends this year because the doors are closed and there are chains on the door. I mean, that’s ridiculous to even think about. And so that’s why we’re here today, to really help protect Ohio’s children.”
Schiavoni says he supports the charters that do well, but notes that a study has shown 87 percent of the 120,000 students in the nearly 400 charter schools in Ohio are going to schools that received either Ds or Fs on their state report cards.