Late last month a chorus of local public school administrators sounded off against state funding of charter schools. Those administrators, however, painted a skewed picture of the charter schools issue.
During a forum held at Lakeview High School, dozens of administrators from Trumbull and Mahoning counties insinuated that $770 million in state funds is being taken annually throughout Ohio from public schools for charter schools. They blame this funding for the need to increase local taxes.
Lakeview Superintendent Robert Wilson said nearly $3 million has left Lakeview for charter schools since 2003. ''This really hits school districts in the pocket,'' Wilson said.
Howland Superintendent John Sheets said charter schools cost Howland $739,709 last year. Sheets said the 20 public schools in Trumbull County received $140.5 million from the state but gave $11.5 million to charter schools.
The superintendents added that charter school academic performance is inferior to the public schools. Statewide, they claimed, 23 percent of public schools and 1 percent of charter schools have excellent with distinction ratings.
Much of what these public school administrators said is flat out incorrect. There are also important points that they omitted.
The money that follows the students is for their public education, whether at a charter school or elsewhere.
Most students are in charter schools because of their behavioral needs and individualized curriculums, which have been a drain on the public school systems. These students would lower the public schools' academic ratings if still enrolled there. And without alternative schools many would end up dropouts and permanent burdens on local taxpayers via the welfare system.
Take the 18,000 Ohio children attending special ''dropout recovery'' charter schools, which are private institutions receiving government funding. We doubt that Wilson and Sheets want these dropouts in their systems. If so, they would have done what many public districts did - created their own charter schools.
Dropouts wouldn't bring education funding to the districts anyway. Naturally, the public money designated for their education follows them to the institution willing to take them.
That money is not the drain that Wilson and Sheets let on. It's usually only about two-thirds of what public school districts would receive. Howland, for example, spends $9,800 per student. Charter schools receive $5,700 for every Howland student they educate.
When you consider that charter schools receive no facility funding, it's actually much less than two-thirds.
Wilson and Sheets are also factually incorrect and misleading on the academic performance of charter schools. They say only 1 percent of charter schools achieved an excellent with distinction rating, but that fails to consider that many charter schools are not even considered for the rating because they do not serve grades four through eight. Wilson and Sheets told their audience that 96 percent of charter schools are in continuous improvement, which is incorrect.
We agree that privately owned charter schools lack sufficient transparency and state scrutiny. As long as they are handed taxpayer money, there should be thorough auditing and strictly enforced academic standards.
It's disturbing that, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Ohio ranks as only the 27th strictest (actually a big improvement since Gov. Ted Strickland held office) among the 43 states with charter school laws. Equally disturbing is that according to Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank, ''some charter schools that have been ordered to close for poor performance have managed to stay open with largely the same staff, and often in the same location, just under a different name.''
But for public educators like Wilson and Sheets to expect charter schools to perform at the same academic level as Lakeview and Howland is absurd considering they're tackling the students that couldn't survive traditional classroom settings. It's clear they are attempting to use school choice as a scapegoat for their difficulty in balancing budgets.