Forum: Districts losing money to charter schools

CORTLAND – A total of $770 million in state funds is being taken annually throughout Ohio from public schools for charter schools, say public school officials who are deeply concerned as their districts receive less and less money to educate students.

More than 75 Trumbull and Mahoning county school administrators, school board members and members of the public gathered at a forum Wednesday at Lakeview High School to hear how charter schools in the past 15 years have taken more and more taxpayers’ money from public schools.

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Trumbull County and superintendents from Howland and Lakeview.

Officials said the state needs to change the way charter schools are funded since taking those funds from public schools forces districts to seek passage of levies to bring in needed money.

Lakeview School Superintendent Robert Wilson said there are 100,000 students (1 in 18 students) in Ohio attending charter schools.

”When you attach a dollar figure to that number, it really jumps out at you at what monies are leaving public education. This really hits school districts in the pocket,” Wilson said.

He said since the first charter school opened in Toledo 15 years ago, the face of public education has greatly changed.

Wilson said since 2003 nearly $3 million has left Lakeview schools going to charter schools.

Officials are also concerned with the poor state performance ratings of many charter schools.

He said he is very disturbed that students leave Lakeview, which has an Excellent with Distinction state rating, to attend charter schools that have lower state ratings and are in Academic Emergency.

”When these students leave, they are taking with them Lakeview taxpayer dollars to go to charter schools that are not doing the job academically,” Wilson said.

He said statistics and data show that 23 percent of Ohio public schools have Excellent with Distinction ratings while only 1 percent of the charter schools have an Excellent with Distinction, with 96 percent of those schools receiving Continuous Improvement rating.

”Where is the outrage over the flow of your taxpayer dollars into these failing schools? Any way you look at it, it is wrong,” said William Phillis, executive director of Ohio’s Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.

Phillis predicted when the governor’s state budget is released today ”most school districts will be sickened.”

He said unless people rise up against the current situation, in five or more years, several billion dollars of school district funds will go to charter schools and vouchers.

”What will happen in five years pales in comparison to what is taking place now,” Phillis said.

Wilson said Lakeview receives $3,342 per student in funds from the state but ends up paying $8,984 per student to charter schools when a students leaves Lakeview. He said last year, $290,480 of Lakeview taxpayer money went to charter schools.

Officials said because monies are taken from public schools they are forced to go to the taxpayers for passage of levies to bring in funds.

Howland Superintendent John Sheets echoed neighboring Lakeview’s situation, noting many districts throughout the area are having to ask for passage of levies as more and more public taxpayer dollars leave public schools for charter schools.

”When charter schools first started in 1997, the snowball started down the hill and is still growing and growing,” Sheets said.

He said Howland receives $1,506 per student from the state and pays $8,930 per student to charter schools.

Sheets said Howland had 83 students go to charter schools, costing the district $739,709 which could have been used in the public schools.

”We tell parents their children are leaving districts with excellent ratings and going to charter schools with lower ratings,” Sheets said.

Sheets said the 20 public schools in Trumbull County received $140,451,630 from the state but have given $11,516 million to charter schools for 1,358 students who left public for charter schools.

Phillis said public schools provide the funding for transportation of students to charter schools, noting $20 million in taxpayer money goes to transportation.

Sheets said if a student returns to a public school from a charter school often they often have deficiencies and can’t pass state tests.

Sheets said the performance levels of charter schools needs to be addressed.

Phillis said sometimes parents make ”bad decisions” in taking children from excellent-rated districts to poorly rated charter schools.