Charter Schools Can Thrive In An Era Of Reform?

Zac Morris | May 8th, 2015

It’s hard to avoid the topic of charter school reform these days. From news reports to proposed policy changes, everybody seems to have an opinion when it comes to the proper way to manage these public educational institutions. While it’s still too early to rewrite policy, it doesn’t hurt to monitor the ever-changing pulse of the legislature, especially when it has the potential to drastically impact the way our state’s charter schools are managed.

As students continue to flock to charter schools within their communities, the increased demand has effectively changed the landscape of Ohio’s education facilities. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that during the 2013-14 school year a record 119,533 students opted to attend one of Ohio’s 400 charter schools. Such a shift in our educational system has spurred increased scrutiny of the charter school industry and has prompted state leaders to call for increased organizational and financial transparency and accountability.

Slideshow: Top 5 Tips For Charter Schools


Top 5 Tips For Charter Schools – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Charter Schools Continue To Grow In Popularity

Charter schools have proven their worth and show no signs of going away, which has fueled efforts to secure greater regulation and oversight over the institutions. So far this year there has been no shortage of charter school reform proposals – with the most recent one being introduced by State Sen. Peggy Lehner mid-April.

The charter school reforms that are being debated in Ohio’s legislature call for companies and organizations responsible for operating the schools to do so under “higher standards” of quality education. Proponents of reform cite a trend of lower test scores and point to the government funding charter schools currently receive to back a position of greater accountability and transparency.

“Charter schools can be examples of exceptional education,” Lehner told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in April. “But Ohio has been ‘extremely loose’ in its rules about who can run (manage) schools … and (has) ‘failed to put up the sort of guardrails’ that force the schools to be of high quality.”

According to the Cleveland publication, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) points to the success of many national charter schools as examples how communities and students can continue to benefit from properly managed privately-held institutions and point to the importance of outside agencies, namely school districts, state or city panels, colleges and non-profits, “to do a better job of making sure schools provide solid educations to children.”

The three proposals introduced so far this year all call for stricter oversight with regard to which entities are authorized to set up charter schools across the state.

How Are These Proposals Different?

 

Charter School Changes - Rea & Associates - Ohio CPA Firm

The more charter schools grow in popularity, the more attention they get in the legislature – especially in Ohio where during the 2013-14 school year a record 119,533 students attended one of the state’s public charter schools.

Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal called for Ohio’s charter schools to receive two new potential funding sources while holding school sponsors to a higher standard of accountability. His proposal sought to generate a $25 million facilities fund, which would be available only to the highest-rated sponsors. Those highly-rated sponsors would also be allowed to seek local tax levies while advocating for the closure of poorly performing schools. Furthermore, he would:

  • Require all sponsors to be approved by the Ohio Department of Education and go through the state review and rating process.
  • Prevent sponsors from selling goods and/or services to the schools they sponsor in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Mandate that all charter schools only employ treasurers, auditors and lawyers who are not affiliated with the school’s sponsor or management company.
  • Advocate for stronger rules for schools and operators that apply directly to the state for sponsorship.

The next charter school reform that was proposed, House Bill 2, was touted as a solution that would promote accountability, transparency and responsibility by:

  • Requiring all charter schools – including district-created dropout recovery schools – to be included in the Ohio Department of Education’s report card.
  • Mandating that all contracts between schools and sponsors include more detail about expected academic performance of the schools as well as details about the school’s facilities and rental or loan costs.
  • Preventing charter schools from frequently changing sponsors in order to appear as though they are in good standing.
  • Requiring the full disclosure of all conflicts of interest.
  • Calling for the annual disclosure of financial reports that allow sponsors to better monitor the school while advising it.
  • Instructing all management companies or organizations to begin reporting their performance.
  • Prevent sponsors from selling goods and/or services to the schools they sponsor in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Prohibiting school district employees and vendors from sitting on the school’s governing board.
  • Ensuring that school treasurers will no longer be hired by the school’s sponsor.

State Sen. Lehner’s most current proposal reportedly “takes many pieces of [the other proposals] and adds additional controls – and benefits.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer states “the bill does not have the state directly close poor-performing charters quickly … instead [it] takes the more indirect path that the charter school community prefers nationally. The bill pressures the ‘sponsors’ … to raise standards.” Her bill aims to:

  • Strengthen language that will prohibit “sponsor hopping.”
  • Increase the transparency associated with expenditures generated by operators.
  • Require all sponsors to have a contract with the Ohio Department of Education [ODE].
  • Incorporate Gov. Kasich’s charter school sponsor oversight proposal.
  • Limit the direct authorizing by the ODE and allows it to decline applicants.
  • Prohibit sponsors from spending charter funds outside of their statutory responsibly.
  • Encourage high performing schools with facilities by encouraging co-location and facility funding.

I am sure we will hear much more about this issue before it comes to a vote. But in the meantime, keep following these events and consider how changes might affect you. Email Rea & Associates to find out how we can help you overcome current challenges while preparing for the future.

By: Zac Morris, CPA (Millersburg office)

 

Related Articles:

Don’t Let Your District Lose Medicare Dollars

How Do You Stop School Credit Card Fraud?

Is Your Local School District Being Reimbursed For Its Fuel Consumption?

Share Button

Tags: , , , , ,


Leave a Reply