I found the recent article about the League of Women Voters forum on the costs of charter schools interesting but was disappointed that while the forum included those against charter schools, it did not include charter school proponents or parents who have chosen charter schools. The public really needs to hear all the facts before coming to a conclusion that charter schools are negative for our community.
Many people don't realize that there are different types of charter schools. The majority of charter schools in Ohio are site based. A site-based school can only be located in one of the Urban 8 districts or in a challenged district. In other words, most site-based charters can only start up in areas where the schools are already failing.
The only site-based schools in Trumbull County are in the Warren City School District. The four site-based schools in our county for the last school year had a combined enrollment of 452 students.
All charter schools are classified as special education, dropout recovery and general. About a third of all charter schools in our state are either special education or dropout recovery. Of the four site-based charter schools in our county, two are special education and one is dropout recovery.
Last school year, 332 of the 452 students at site-based charter schools in our county attended a charter school that specializes in special education or dropout recovery. Two hundred fifty-four of those students were at Life Skills Academy, which is a dropout recovery school.
One of the complaints about charter schools in Ohio is that they are scoring low on the state report cards. When you take into account that so many of the students in these schools are coming from failing districts and needing to catch up, and that so many are special education students or students who are at a high risk for dropping out, it is understandable that many of these schools would not score as well.
Last school year, out of 355 charter schools in Ohio, 26 were virtual schools with 38 percent of all charter school students enrolled in them. More than half of these schools were dropout recovery. Using the figure of 1,358 students enrolled in charter schools countywide cited by the Howland superintendent, one could estimate that about 900 students from Trumbull are enrolled in virtual charter schools.
As with site-based schools, the scoring of these schools in comparison with traditional public school needs to be understood in the light of the fact that more than half of them are dropout recovery schools. Those that aren't still receive many students who are struggling in traditional public systems. Both of these facts affect the performance reviews of these schools.
The focus of the forum was the money lost by the districts in our county. One thing that the administrators quoted in the article don't seem to understand is that the money they are talking about losing does not belong to their school districts. It is taxpayer money for educating the children in their districts and is being used to do just that.
The money that follows that student to a charter school is actually only part of the money associated with that student. Also, while there are fixed expenses for a district that don't change when the student population decreases, much of the expenses for a student leave when the student leaves. It is disingenuous of the superintendents to claim that they are losing the funding associated with a student when they are also losing the costs associated with the student.
Many of the students that our local districts are losing end up in virtual charter schools. The reasons people chose a virtual charter school vary. Bullying and illness come to mind as examples.
There are sometimes learning issues with a student that a parent doesn't feel are being addressed. If a parent wants to home school but doesn't feel competent to do so or just wants him to have a public school diploma, a virtual charter school is a good solution.
Many of the sponsors of the charter schools in our state are actually local school districts and county educational service centers. None of the school districts in Trumbull County have done this. I wonder, if instead of complaining about how much money they are losing, the administrators might consider starting their own virtual charter schools to provide the children in their district an alternative.
The reality is some in the public school arena don't really believe that parents should have a choice in their children's education. This was revealed by a quote from William Phillis, a member of a special interest group working to eliminate charter schools. He noted that parents sometimes make ''bad decisions.''
The vast majority of parents don't take these decisions lightly; and while a few might make bad decisions, we don't take everyone's rights away for the bad decisions of a few people.
Parents have the right to choose what is the best education for their children, and need to have as many options as possible available to them. Ultimately, the people who care the most about the children are their parents. Educators and administrators need to understand and respect that.
Yoder is a West Farmington resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.