COLUMBUS, Ohio – Students and parents will have more educational opportunities thanks to the budget bill legislators just passed and Gov. Mike DeWine signed. The law makes closing charter schools more difficult, expands the EdChoice Scholarship program, and increases the time frame for signing up for the Cleveland Scholarship.
Charter schools have experienced a significant increase in regulatory oversight and unfunded mandates. Over the last 10 years alone, more than 60 bills have been passed affecting charters.
Ohio has closed 305 charter schools (community schools) since the pilot project began in 1997. There are currently 319 schools open and operating, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Of the 44 states, including the District of Columbia, which permit charter schools to operate, 25 do not have closure laws linked to performance like Ohio does.
The closure law in Ohio has been called one of the toughest in the nation. Students who left failing district schools to attend charters have too often been forced back into the same schools they left after the state or sponsor shut down their school of choice. It did not matter if it performed better than the traditional district.
House Bill 166, the budget, has likely provided some increased longevity for charters and peace of mind for students and parents who choose them. While the bill does not change the criteria for closure, it does change the time frame. Schools now have to fail to meet current law performance requirements three years in a row to be closed, instead of being shut down for failing to meet academic benchmarks two out of the three most recent years.
Additional changes to the value-added calculation will likely result in most, if not all, schools and districts seeing improved performance on their state report cards. That change will also contribute to fewer charter schools closing.
In addition to charter schools, Ohio provides several scholarship options for certain students to attend private schools with state education dollars. The voucher programs include Ed-Choice, the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the Autism Scholarship and the John Peterson Special Needs Scholarship.
The traditional EdChoice Scholarship was given an automatic increase trigger in the budget. Anytime the number of applicants exceeds 90 percent of the maximum number allowed in law, currently 60,000, the Ohio Department of Education must increase the number of scholarships by five percent for the following year. As previously reported in The Ohio Star, the number of children eligible for the EdChoice Scholarship has also been increased.
The budget also expands the enrollment period for students who wish to take advantage of the Cleveland Scholarship. The Autism Scholarship and Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship programs remain the same.
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