Ohio group sues to boost charter schools

By: - August 11, 2022 3:40 am

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An Ohio group that supports charter schools has joined in a lawsuit fighting against what they say is “hostility” in rule-making by the U.S. Department of Education.

The D.C. and Ohio-based Thomas Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy think tank, spoke as a “charter school sponsor” for the state of Ohio, arguing that rules regulating enrollment and use of charter schools in the state by the federal education agency will “disadvantage some or all of the charter schools sponsored by Fordham.”

The rule that regulates grants and criteria for charter school programs, effective Aug. 5, was finalized after receiving 25,000 public comments on the issue, according to the department.

“A majority of commenters expressed general support for the proposed priorities, requirements, definitions and selection criteria,” documents within the Federal Register stated.

The more than 300 charter schools in Ohio fall under the category of public schools, but don’t have to adhere to the same criteria as traditional public schools, such as hiring and curriculum oversight.

The part of the rule the charter school advocates have a problem with states charter schools would need to prove public schools are over-enrolled, and encourage but don’t require “community collaboration” with fellow school districts.

“The most successful charter schools are those that provide educational alternatives to under-enrolled schools, not those that simply house excess numbers of students,” the lawsuit claims.

Last April, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also pushed back against federal charter school rules as he joined a letter to the Biden administration, signed by governors in 17 other other states. In the letter, the governors said new rules would reduce choices in education, therefore exacerbate inequities.

“We oppose any attempts by the federal government to act as a national charter school board, impose a top-down and one-size-fits-all approach, and undermine the authority of parents to choose the educational option best for their child,” DeWine and the other governors wrote.

Fordham argued in the lawsuit that the charter school members it sponsors “will not be able to demonstrate a ‘sufficient demand’ for the charter schools based on enrollment numbers in existing public schools.”

“The new rule will particularly disadvantage Fordham’s schools that operate in urban areas … as many local school districts have demonstrated hostility to charter school expansion and will be unlikely to assist new or existing charter schools,” court documents stated.

The institute joined with the Michigan Association of Public School Academies in a federal lawsuit against the federal Department of Education, asking the court to keep the rule from being enforced.

The two groups called it an “attack on the charter school program” that is “unlawful.”

“Not only does the department lack the authority to issue any new criteria; the proposed factors will punish the most successful charter school programs, particularly in school districts that enroll large numbers of minority students,” the lawsuit states.

Public school advocates in the state have consistently called for the state and federal government to improve regulations to charter schools and private schools along with reigning in spending because that funding takes away from the traditional public school districts who serve a vast majority of Ohio students.

The Fordham Institute mentioned the state entity grant the state of Ohio received under the federal charter schools program in 2015, with an initial funding allocation of $70 million over the next five years. The state has applied to renew the funding through 2023.

Follow OCJ Reporter Susan Tebben on Twitter.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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