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Education


Beacon Journal, NewsOutlet begin a multi-year look at Ohio charter schools
Launch of project examines oversight, nonprofit status and transportation
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


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M.L. Schultze
 
Doug Oplinger, managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal
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In The Region:

A series of stories hit Ohio newspapers beginning Sunday to look closer at the accountability and costs of charter schools in Ohio.

It’s part of a multi-year project launched by the Akron Beacon Journal and the NewsOutlet, a group of students from Youngstown State, the University of Akron and Cuyahoga Community College.

WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with the Beacon Journal’s Managing Editor Doug Oplinger about the attempt to build a long-term profile of the charter schools that get roughly a billion dollars a year in public funding.

LISTEN: Charter schools public records, management and transportation

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LISTEN: A question of choice

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The project began with the basics: Requests for information required by Ohio’s open meetings and public records laws to 300 of the nonprofit schools. Some of the schools are run by for-profit companies and some are run in conjunction with traditional public schools. The requested information included the names of school board members, when the boards meet, names of top administrators and management companies.

About half of the schools actually supplied that information. The reactions of the others included ignoring the requests and hanging up on the students.

Doug Oplinger, managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. says the requests are a first step in creating a database of the charter schools. Such a database exists nowhere else in Ohio, and he says it could be used by parents, researchers, policy makers and reporters to track the performance of the publicly financed, but privately run, schools statewide.

Some of that tracking will be done with a set of standards that already exists for nonprofits.

“The IRS has about 70 questions that they’re supposed to ask of a charter school applicant seeking tax-free, nonprofit status," Oplinger said. "There has to be a clear line of separation between the school board that is establishing the school and the management company that is often hired to manage the school. The students and one of our reporters went to some school board meetings and it was clear in the school board meeting that the school board was recruited by the for-profit management company and the for-profit management company takes 95 percent of the money. The board members said they have very little authority in terms of the administration of that money and the hiring of the employees.”

That includes one operation where the budget totaled $2 million and school board members said they have discretion over just $1,500.

The third part of the series looks at a major mandate that is an extra cost to traditional public schools that comes with charter schools: Transportation.

“One of the things that folks don’t understand is that charter schools have a tremendous advantage in that the legislature requires public school districts to provide transportation to kids that go to charter schools, while not providing the same level of transportation for kids that go to their own schools," Oplinger said. "So this winter, for example, as kids are slogging through just miserable weather to go to their local traditional public school, the kid going to a charter school was catching the bus near their house and getting a free ride to the charter school. Charter schools advertise this free transportation, and that is a huge advantage because if you don’t get kids to school, you can’t educate them. Your absentee rate goes way up. We’ve talked to parents who’ve said free transportation is huge because I don’t want my kids walking on messy sidewalks and past or through some neighborhoods where I know crimes have been committed.”

Oplinger says the next step in the series will include a examining who owns the property in which many charter schools operate. He also hopes to incorporate a series of focus groups, forums and polling to see what the public expects from the charter schools.

Listener Comments:

Glad to see this. My daughter attends Miller South, a wonderful public school. Each year Miller South families scramble to assemble carpools to get our kids to and from school. All while charter school kids, who could live in my neighborhood, catch a school bus. Every child deserves an education but there seems to be a lot of disparity. I'm looking forward to learning more about charter schools through this series.


Posted by: Gretchen Fri on April 11, 2014 4:04AM
Great Job!!! This is something that needs doing. The charter school movement looks to me a lot like the private prison industry. A chance for greedy people to rap the tax payers wallets. Who cares whether the kids get a decent education/
No one cares about the convicts. These people are betting that no one cares about the kids and by the time the public figures out they have a generation of uneducated twenty some things they will have made their pile


Posted by: Chuck Good (Cuiyahoga Falls) on April 2, 2014 7:04AM
Thank you, thank you, Doug Oplinger (and thank you WKSU) for working on this huge, shocking erosion of the country's ideal of good PUBLIC education.


Posted by: Elizabeth Hendricks (Hiram Twp.) on March 31, 2014 11:03AM
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