29 percent of Ohio charter schools close

COLUMBUS – Twenty-nine percent of Ohio’s charter schools have closed dating back to 1997, including 17 schools last year in Columbus.

Publicly funded charter schools that are often privately run became legal in Ohio in 1997, The Columbus Dispatch reports. About 75 of the almost 400 charter schools currently operating in the state are in Columbus, where nine of the 17 schools that closed in 2013 lasted only months.

Some of the nine schools closed because of money problems, while some closed due to health and safety troubles including a lack of nutritious lunches for students and unsanitary buildings, the newspaper reported. Some were closed by their sponsors.

Locally, only one charter school has closed since 1997, although one in Warren and two in Youngstown were closed and then reopened under a different name in the same location. Trumbull County currently houses five active charter schools, according to the Ohio Department of Education: Summit Academy Warren Middle and Secondary, Summit Academy Warren Elementary, Life Skills of Trumbull County, STEAM Academy of Warren and Hope Academy for Autism. Mahoning County has 13 options for charter schools, while students also have eight statewide virtual schools available to them, as well as several online education opportunities run by local school districts, including Warren City Schools and Austintown schools.

Advocates and critics of charter schools say one way to avoid closings is to do a better job deciding who should be allowed to open.

Nonprofit groups, universities, school districts and educational service centers can act as sponsors or authorizers for charter schools, deciding which can open and if they should close.

“We don’t have any approval or denial power,” said John Charlton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

There also can be great cost to children and to taxpayers when schools close, the newspaper reported.

When the nine schools closed in Columbus last year, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.

Warren City Schools Superintendent Michael Notar noted in November 2013 that local school districts lose $5,745.95 per student when families choose a charter school education.

“A school goes belly up, and the public is out the money, and the kids’ educational programming has been harmed,” said William L. Phillis, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding and a frequent critic of charters.

In a December 2013 letter to the editor, Lakeview Schools Superintendent Bob Wilson called the charter schools “grinches,” saying, “Results of the most recent round of state-mandated testing (third grade), again demonstrate our neighborhood public schools outperform ‘for profit’ charters. In fact, the ‘for profit’ schools scored dead last in Trumbull County.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education and Policy Matters Ohio, two of Trumbull’s five community schools are run by for-profit companies, including STEAM Academy, run by Mosaica Education, and the Life Skills Center, which is sponsored by the much-maligned White Hat Mangement. Both of Warren’s Summit academies and the Hope School for Autism are sponsored by non-profits.

Since the state auditor began auditing charter-school finances in 2000, 110 schools have been found to have misspent a total of $22.6 million, and many of those have closed.

The Ohio attorney general often sues to recover withholding taxes or retirement payments, but there are usually few assets remaining when a school closes.

“Charter-school failures erode the public’s confidence in our movement as a whole,” said Andrew Boy, who runs the two Columbus Collegiate Academy schools, which have attracted attention for their success with middle-school students.

“All considered, I despise sponsors who continually let well-meaning individuals open schools who have no business doing so,” Boy said.