Ohio K-12 education policy issues generally slow down after the adoption of the state operating budget but that is unlikely to be the case in 2018. Driven by the battle to close the largest on-line charter school in the state and a series of state operating budget veto’s by Governor John Kasich, K-12 education policy issues will remain front and center as the Ohio General Assembly returns to the Statehouse in September following the traditional summer recess.
First, the saga of ECOT. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) was formed in 2000 as the infancy of Ohio’s charter school movement was beginning. ECOT is an on-line charter school serving over 15,000 Ohio students. ECOT has run into a buzz saw at the Ohio Department of Education and charter school opponents when it struggled to document when all of their students were actually on-line for instructional purposes. Lawsuits were filed and will continue. ECOT is now facing an edict from the Ohio Department of Education that the funding that will be provided to them will be reduced. Though the school and state are fighting in court over the attendance documentation matter and the case is awaiting a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, the Ohio Department of Education has decided to act by deducting about $2.5 million a month from its ongoing payments to ECOT based upon questionable attendance reports. In Ohio, charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, are funded a set amount of state funding based upon the students attending the charter schools. The ECOT battle continues and it is likely to end up in the Ohio General Assembly’s lap most likely following a potential Ohio Supreme Court decision on the attendance issues.
Second, charter school funding remains far behind traditional public schools in the state and the issue will not be dropped by charter schools who teach over 100,000 Ohio students. Charter or community schools in Ohio are public school districts that are privately managed that operate under state regulation and funded with a set state allocation that diverts $6000 per student who chooses not to attend their local school district but attends a public charter school. Facilities based charter schools also receive a 25% allocation of the state’s billion dollar line item for Targeted Assistance funding designed to support low wealth communities, and all charter schools receive special education funding for students with those needs. Nearly all fifty states operate charter schools as an alternative to struggling traditional public schools. It is a little known fact that traditional public school boards are the prime authorizers of charter schools across the nation. In Ohio, charter schools can be facilities based which are limited to being located in one of just under 40 struggling, primarily urban school district or Internet based which can serve students from anywhere in the state. All Ohio charter schools must be authorized by a sponsor and the performance of charter school sponsors has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years. As charter schools generally do not have access to state property tax funds and only receive 25% of the state’s Targeted Assistance funding, Ohio’s charter schools are drastically underfunded compared to their urban counterparts. The recently passed state of Ohio operating budget continued the state’s underfunding of Ohio’s charter schools and this contentious issue is unlikely to go away.
Third, Governor Kasich’s recent veto of several charter school provisions will likely stir additional Statehouse Debate. Of the 47 Kasich state operating budget vetoes, several impact charter schools. Kasich vetoed a provision in HB 49 that would exempt from state assessment and graduation requirements all students at chartered nonpublic schools in which at least 75 percent of students are children with disabilities who receive special education and related services. The Governor also vetoed an HB 49 provision requiring the Department of Education to increase from 20 percent to 60 percent the weight given to the “Progress” category score when computing a total score for the “Academic Performance” component of the Department of Education’s community school sponsor evaluation system. Additionally, in certain cases the provision would prohibit the Department of Education from rating a sponsor “Ineffective” if it scores a “zero” in the system’s Compliance or Quality Practices components. Another Kasich veto impacted a provision that permits Educational Service Centers (ESC) rated “Effective” to sponsor a community school anywhere in the state. Currently, most ESCs can only sponsor schools in their own and contiguous counties, unless they obtain permission from the Department of Education and sign a contract to do so. In addition, Kasich vetoed a provision of HB 49 that would allow a community school sponsor that had its sponsorship authority revoked due to the 2015-2016 sponsorship evaluations due to poor performance to renew its sponsorship for the 2017-2018 school year if the sponsor received at least a “3” or “4” out of “4,” in the Academic component and “zeros” for the Quality Practices and Compliance components of the sponsor evaluation. Governor Kasich also vetoed provisions eliminating the four-year program for new teachers that they complete in order to prepare for a professional educator license issued by the State Board of Education, and would allow Ohio’s public and private schools to choose between administering state achievement assessments in either paper or online formats. The Ohio General Assembly will return in September and overriding a number of the Governor’s vetoes on HB 49 is on the agenda. However, even if these vetoes are not overridden, debate in the Statehouse is likely to continue in the coming months.