Ohio has had as many or more charter school scandals than Florida. Maybe that is what it take to the Legislature’s attention. Ohio’s House and Senate have passed charter reform bills that are stronger than Florida’s. The charter industry is pushing back. The legislature needs to reconcile the two bills. Will they?
The reforms are strong and meaningful. Florida can learn from Ohio. Here are some specifics Florida needs to consider.
The Ohio legislature has tackled two big issues that Florida has been unwilling to confront: excessive real estate leases and transparency for charter management firms. Basically, management firms are private companies, and they do not want to reveal how much of the state’s money goes for real estate, advertising, or their own salaries.
The Ohio reforms include:
- a 5% limit on facility leases over the market value. Florida has no limit.
- charter operators with low ratings cannot oversee schools. Florida had a similar provision in a bill that died in the last session.
- charter management companies that receive more than 20% of a school’s budget must disclose how the money is spent.
- conflict of interest rules between charters and charter management companies are addressed in Ohio.
The Ohio bills include some charter school ratings and closure rules that Florida already has. A difference included in Ohio’s rating system is a commission to recommend how to evaluate charters that focus on students at risk of dropping out. Ohio recognizes that there are limits to the validity of school rating systems.
It is clear that both Florida and Ohio are struggling about how to ensure adequate oversight. Ohio has multiple sponsors including non-profit organizations that may have no educational focus at all. Most charter authorizers in Florida are school districts, but they have limited ability to oversee charter operations. Ohio is considering a proposal to make its Department of Education responsible for oversight, but as usual, funding for staff remains elusive.
What is needed in both states is a way to hold charters and their sponsors accountable for failure to follow the rules, regulations, and laws that are on the books. The problem is worse in Ohio where closing charter schools is difficult. Florida law allows closure if: schools have failing ratings two years in a row, there is financial insolvency, or failure to ensure the safety of children. The grey area between competent and incompetent management including student admissions, dismissals, board mismanagement, etc. is largely ignored until there is a crisis. At least in regular public schools, when there are problems, the school boards and district staff are empowered to correct them.