Ohio can’t afford to prioritize private and charter schools over fully-funded public schools
Ohio State Capitol building; Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images
Gov. Mike DeWine laid out the first budget of his second term in office and centered much of his agenda around education.
DeWine wants to expand private school choice in the Buckeye State, which includes more public funding for private and religious schools and for publicly-funded but privately-operated charter schools.
The governor proposes to increase the income eligibility for school vouchers up to 400% of the federal poverty level, which is $111,000 per year for a family of four. This expansion of school vouchers would cost about $178 million per year, according to an analysis from the Legislative Services Commission.
In addition to more money for vouchers, DeWine’s budget has some bonuses for charter schools, such as providing an extra $3,000 for each economically disadvantaged student and doubling per-student building funding to $1,000 per student for all charter schools. Why would online charter schools need increased per-student funding for their non-existent school buildings?
Charter schools by Ohio law are referred to as “public schools,” but they are publicly-funded, tuition-free schools, which are privately-operated. Charter schools were originally conceived in 1997 as “laboratories for innovation,” but when Ohioans think of innovation, they probably do not have profiteering in mind.
However, that is what most of Ohio’s charter schools, mislabeled as “community schools” in Ohio Revised Code, have become: nonprofits in name only run by those who cash in on educating kids.
Since the pandemic, more than half of all Ohio charter schools are run by for-profit corporations, enrolling 60% of all of our state’s charter school students. Many of these corporate operators are located out-of-state, ignoring both federal regulations and Ohio laws that say funding should go to public schools that are nonprofit organizations operated for children, not for personal enrichment.
Accel, the fourth largest for-profit chain in the nation, is rapidly expanding by buying up failing Ohio charter schools owned by other for-profits. While Accel may have offices in Ohio, it is a subsidiary of Virginia-based Pansophic Learning, which is partially owned by an investment company in Dubai.
Accel runs 9 its 55 Ohio charter schools with sweeps contracts, meaning that nearly every public dollar coming into those schools is “swept” into the for-profit controlled bank accounts. The other 46 schools run by Accel are fee-based, the company said in an email over the weekend after this story was originally published.
The for-profit does everything from hiring employees to managing the bank accounts to leasing the building, often from the for-profit’s related corporation.
Accel is hardly alone. For-profit Oakmont Education took over several of the for-profit Cambridge-run schools, whose founder and owner, Marcus May, was convicted of fraud and racketeering. Oakmont takes 18% off the top to run its schools with the power to hire the teachers and principal and to direct the educational program.
The Ohio Department of Education included 47 different for-profit operators running charter schools in its 2021-2022 operator report.
As the recently released report, Chartered for Profit II: Pandemic Profiteering, published by the Network for Public Education (NPE) explains how related corporations and real estate companies create webs designed to maximize profitability in Ohio and beyond.
According to a report published by Ohio’s pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which itself sponsors charter schools, for-profit charter schools graduate students at lower rates and with more adverse academic outcomes as the number of charter services managed by for-profit operators increases.
The NPE report outlines six simple policy changes that could be made to close many of these legal loopholes and ensure public funds end up serving students, not profiteers. These are recommendations that Ohio should adopt, because playing the system to profit off kids is not the “charter school innovation” taxpayers deserve.
It is encouraging that DeWine says he wants to continue implementing the Fair School Funding Plan, which was passed in his last budget but not fully funded, because if we are not fully funding public schools, why are we talking about funding private schools?
Once again, it appears that private school choice is the focus of DeWine’s education budget proposal.
Will there be any funds left for the 615 constitutionally-required public school districts that serve over 1.5 million Ohio students and their families?
Update: An earlier version of this article did not specify the number of Accel schools that were sweeps versus those that are fee-based. The numbers have been added in. Nine Accel schools are “sweeps” contracts while the other 46 are fee-based.
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