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As charter schools close, Democrats are pushing for reforms
The Senate Education Committee chair says she wants to cooperate, but has vested interests to deal with

Karen Kasler
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni says he has tried three times to pass bills that improve charter schools.
Courtesy of Ohio Statehouse
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In The Region:

Another Ohio charter school shut down this week, the first week of school for many Ohio students. The VLT Academy in Cincinnati is the 22nd community school to close this fiscal year. That is angering those who say they are trying to do something about failing charter schools but are being ignored.


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Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni is frustrated. The Democrat from Boardman near Youngstown says in the last two sessions of the General Assembly, he has proposed three bills that he says would bring more accountability and transparency to Ohio’s charters schools. But none of those bills have gotten much attention. The last two haven’t even gotten a hearing. He says he has reached out to Senate Education Committee chair Peggy Lehner, a Republican of Kettering, who has said she supports the idea behind those bills.

“When we talked in the spring, she told me directly and point blank that this was going to be a project that we were going to work on over the summer and we were going to get back to it in the fall," Schiavoni says. "But to hear nothing over the summer, with all the things that are going on, it’s troubling to me. So I think if you talk to legislators in the hallway, they’ll tell you that the issue needs to be addressed, but for one reason or another, it’s not being.”

Senate Education Committee chair Peggy Lehner says she wants to work with Schiavoni but there are a lot of vested interests involved.GOP chair says she supports another look
Schiavoni said he has written and called Lehner, but gotten no response. But Lehner says she has been traveling out of the country for the last month.

Lehner says that she supports taking a new look at charter school laws, and that she told Schiavoni she is willing to work with him on the issue. But because there are a lot of what she calls vested interests involved, Lehner says she has convened a group of people she calls education thought leaders, most are Democrats, she says, to look over the state’s charter school laws.

But Lehner says there will not be an attempt to change those laws now or in the lame duck session after the November election.

“I just don’t think that’s appropriate, and I think that invites more bad law, frankly," Lehner syas. "So I’m sort of looking at legislation to be introduced at the beginning of next year or whenever it’s ready and we’re just going to take our time and we’re going to do this right.”

Election-year politicking?
Lehner admits a skeptic might see this as an election year tactic, though she is not on the ballot herself, half of her Senate colleagues and the entire Ohio House is. But Lehner says this issue is complicated and needs time to be done right.

“I just think that there’s too much at stake to be doing this in a way that is something that you can wave your flag at at election time," Lehner says. "I’m trying to remove it from the election process. Sure, we could come up with a model law that people could either support or fight as an election issue. I just think this deserves better than that.”

But Schiavoni says kids in failing charter schools don’t care about election year politics, and that time is ticking away for them.

“It’s not a political thing," Schiavoni says. "I mean, if you have, think about a kid that’s about to go to school, and now he can’t go to school with his friends this year because the doors are closed and there are chains on the door. I mean, that’s ridiculous to even think about. And so that’s why we’re here today, to really help protect Ohio’s children.”

Schiavoni says he supports the charters that do well, but notes that a study has shown 87 percent of the 120,000 students in the nearly 400 charter schools in Ohio are going to schools that received either Ds or Fs on their state report cards.

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