School lockers in a hallway. Getty Images.
Community charter schools are still growing in the state of Ohio, but recent changes and future plans for statewide education funding aren’t necessarily supported by the schools.
The schools are considered public schools in Ohio, which includes receiving a state report card grade, but they “operate independently of a traditional school district” and can be “sponsored” by non-profit sources and surrounding school districts.
The schools also contract with “operators” who can be from for-profit or non-profit organizations, as well as school districts or educational service centers. Operators are hired by sponsors, and can be used by community schools to “help manage the school’s day-to-day operations,” according to the ODE.
Up until last year, “startup community schools,” those not sponsored by a school district or educational service center were only allowed in “challenged” districts. Now, however, community charter schools can open up in any district.
During the 2021-2022 school year, 19 sponsoring organizations authorized 324 community charter schools, enrolling more than 115,000 students, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s annual community schools report.
Of those 19 organizations, six are nonprofits:
- The Buckeye Community Hope Foundation
- Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio
- Richland Academy
- St. Aloysius Orphanage
- The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
- The Ohio Council of Community Schools.
Community schools are represented by 11 school district sponsors:
- Cleveland Municipal School District
- Educational Service Center of Central Ohio
- ESC of Lake Erie West
- Findlay City
- Margaretta Local Schools
- Maysville Local Schools
- Mid-Ohio ESC
- New Philadelphia City Schools
- North Central Ohio ESC
- Tri-Rivers Career Center
- Zanesville City Schools
The Office of School Sponsorship and Bowling Green State University also sponsor community schools in the state, according to state records.
Some community schools are designated as dropout prevention and recovery if they operate a drug recovery program in cooperation with a court or enrolls more than 50% of its students in a dropout prevention and recovery program.
Schools targeted as dropout prevention and recovery receive a “specifically designed” report card.
Changes to the school report card made by the state legislature made comparisons from year to year “challenging” the report stated, but progress ratings of three stars or better (which the department said amounted to a C-grade or better) went up from 49% in 2018-2019 to 69% in this latest report.
Of the dropout recovery community schools, 95% met or exceeded overall standards, compared to 83% in the last school year. The annual report did not specify the schools.
The Ohio Department of Education also commissioned a funding study on community schools in 2022, which was conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.
The Fair School Funding Plan, instituted on a two-year basis in what is meant to be a six-year phase-in, changed funding for community schools from a fixed per-pupil formula to a variable per-pupil amount, with traditional school district funding amounts.
The study surveyed community schools in the state “to gain a better understanding of how equitably and how well the (Fair School Funding Plan) supports community schools and their students.”
According to the ODE annual report, community schools are increasingly receiving grants through the Quality Community School Support Grant, for which eligibility is dependent on performance standards and overall achievement. The Ohio legislature increased funding to that program from $30 million in 2021 to $54 million in 2022.
Based on the survey conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, 67% of the 21 grant recipients who responded spent the QCSS funding on additional instructional staff or increases in staff salaries. Grant funds were used to purchase technology and supplies, according to 62% of the survey respondents. Additional student support staff, such as counselors and social workers were hired by 48% of grant recipients and 38% also used it to “offer expanded learning opportunities.”
The category of “other” garnered responses from 10% of grant recipients, who said that included “basics, like life skills, hygiene items and clothing, and ‘to survive.’”
“Open response comments highlighted that though the QCSS dollars are ‘extra’ funding, schools feel the resources purchased with the funds ensure they can meet the minimum educational opportunity they need for students,” the report stated.
The General Assembly also created a Community School Classroom Facilities Grant in 2015 for renovations and other work to community school classroom buildings. This year, nearly $12 million in grant funds will be available to schools who will use the funds to “increase the supply of seats in high-performing schools, serve specific unmet student needs through community school education and show innovation in design and potential as a successful, replicable school model.”
In the funding study, the firm found that the QCSS grants provide additional per pupil funding: $1,750 for economically disadvantaged students and $1,000 for others.
But members of community schools who were surveyed for the study said the Fair School Funding Plan “did not treat community schools equitably as compared to traditional schools.”
Despite a majority of those surveyed claiming inequity for community schools, 49% said the plan had a positive impact on education.
Particularly impactful to the community school members was special education funding, but 35% of individuals felt the base funding provided by the Fair School Funding Plan had a negative impact on community schools.
The study heard different responses as to the benefits of the funding plan, including the change to direct funding by the state, which they say “minimized the tension of ‘battling’ between community schools and traditional schools/districts.”
But concerns remained, including the belief that community schools should be funded in the same way as traditional schools, and a “concern with the phase-in and its impact on community schools with enrollment fluctuations.”
The firm conducting the study concluded that community schools span a wide range of students, and the uncertainty of the phase-in of the Fair School Funding Plan causes complications.
“Many community schools serve a specific grade span(s), which can impact the level of resources needed to serve students, while the funding is based on average funding across all grades,” according to the study.
But the study said it was important “that any potential changes to the community schools funding approach should ensure no perverse incentives are created that would encourage providers to create a number of smaller settings simply to receive more per pupil funding.”
A clarification was made to this article regarding community school sponsors and operators.
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