Sunday, October 11, 2015

School reform arrives at last | The Columbus Dispatch

School reform arrives at last | The Columbus Dispatch:

School reform arrives at last

Law should boost accountability, reduce conflicts of interest

Ohio, a national laughingstock for the weak oversight and conflicts of interest that have dogged its charter schools, finally has embraced serious reform with the passage of House Bill 2 on Wednesday.
This law is a game-changer. It makes leaps toward ending mediocrity, blatant self-dealing by charter-school profiteers and mismanagement and secrecy by charter-school operators soaking up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
“This bill puts Ohio’s charter-school community on the road to respectability,” state Auditor Dave Yost said.
More important, it gives children a fair chance at a quality education and allows real school choice to blossom in Ohio. For the poorest trapped in failing urban schools or those with particular needs, charter schools are an escape valve.
House Bill 2 succeeds by respecting a balance. As the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commented, “ This bill significantly strengthens the accountability structures that govern Ohio’s charter-school sector without compromising the school-level autonomy that is critical to the charter-school model.
“If implemented with fidelity, the bill’s provisions hold the promise of dramatically improving the educational outcomes for 120,000 students who attend more than 350 Ohio charter schools.” (See the foundation’s reform summary at
Among the bill’s sweeping changes:
• It closes loopholes. No more sponsor-hopping by failing schools to evade accountability. They have to close.
• It eliminates conflicts of interest. For instance, it bars most sponsors — the schools’ watchdogs — from profiting by selling them goods and services, an incentive to keep poor-performing schools open.
• It empowers board independence and increases accountability, defining more appropriate relationships among sponsors, school boards and management companies (or “operators”). Boards will be required to retain independent legal counsel before entering into contracts with a sponsor or an operator. And the boards, not operators, are to adopt the school’s budget.
• It vastly improves ethics and transparency. Board members must undergo criminal background checks, be listed on school websites, disclose conflicts of interest and, with administrators, take annual training in public-records and open-meeting laws.
No bill is perfect. And this one had a bumpy ride through a legislature co-opted for years by hefty campaign donations from charter operators.
One advantage to the delay was that the bill rectifies a problem highlighted by a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling: House Bill 2 specifies that furniture and equipment purchased with public-education dollars belong to the school, not the operator.
The onus now is on the Ohio Department of Education to oversee this charter-school reform. Yet serious concerns exist over whether the department, as currently constituted, can be trusted to do so. It has been criticized rightly for inflating the grades of some charter schools and stonewalling public-records requests.
Ohio’s charter-school experiment began nearly two decades ago. The legislature and Gov. John Kasich, who pressed for charter-school reform, have done their part to keep a long-broken promise to children. Now it’s up to state education officials.School reform arrives at last | The Columbus Dispatch: