One of theeducation policy proposals during last year’s was the creation of the Quality Community Schools Support Program, which increased state aid for charter schools by $30 million. Now, nearly half a year later, that program is making headlines once again because of a .
Let’s start with a little context. The new funding program was built around two stipulations. First, it only provides resources to charter schools that meet quality benchmarks. These standards—which my colleague Aaron Churchill“rigorous but reasonable”—include being authorized by a sponsor with an , scoring higher on the state report card’s than the district in which the school is located, and receiving an overall grade of A or B for .
Second, the program specifically targets high-poverty charter schools. Only schools that enroll at least 50 percent economically disadvantaged (ED) students are able to access the funds. In addition, the law provides a higher amount of per-pupil funding for ED students—eligible schools receive $1,750 for each student identified as low income, compared to $1,000 for non-economically disadvantaged students.
When the program made it through the budget cycle and into law, choice advocates immediately saw its potential. Charters have long faced significant funding shortfalls compared to their district counterparts. Alast year found that charters in the received approximately $4,000 less per pupil than their district counterparts. This funding gap severely of schools, networks, and the entire sector. Newly available money would, among other things, for the state’s best networks to expand their reach and open more schools.
But that’s not all it could do. Lawmakers also recognized that, while Ohio is home to some, there are charters outside the state, too. Networks like , , and have a history of serving students well, and recruiting them and others to the state would mean more quality learning opportunities for Ohio students.
To make the state a more attractive destination for high performers, lawmakers included a method for out-of-state operators to access Quality Community Schools Support Program funds for their newly created Ohio schools. Like existing charters, new schools are required to contract with an exemplary or effective Ohio sponsor. But since they are new and therefore lack performance-index and value-added scores, they can demonstrate their quality by meeting one of the following options:
Option A: Has operated a school that received a grant funded through the federal Charter Schools Program or received funding from the Charter School Growth Fund.
Option B: Meets all of the following requirements:
- One of the operator’s schools in another state performed better than a school in the district in which the school is located;
- At least 50 percent of the total number of students enrolled in all the operator’s schools are ED;
- The operator is in good standing in all the states where it operates schools; and
- The department determines that the operator does not have any financial viability issues that would prevent it from operating a community school.
These alternative methods for proving quality were intended for schools that aren’t already operating in Ohio. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said as much in his: “The budget also affords new community schools the opportunity to qualify for funding if the school replicated a school that meets the above criteria or uses an operator with a record of quality in other states” (emphasis added).
The distinction that these methods were intended for use only by new schools is critical. Why? Because Accel, a large charter operator with ten Ohio schools that qualified for funding, applied for its thirty-three other schools to also receive funding—despite those schools failing to meet the required academic benchmarks. Accel based their request on a Colorado charter school they run that was awarded a federal grant a few years ago and therefore meets the requirements of Option A. (For more information, check outby Patrick O’Donnell of the Plain Dealer.)
It’s hard to fault operators for pursuing every possible option to get their schools more funding. But the out-of-state provisions weren’t designed to open a back door to eligibility for current Ohio schools that failed to meet rigorous quality standards. They were designed to give high-performing out-of-state operators a chance to demonstrate their quality prior to opening a new school.
Late last week, the Ohio Department of Educationthat sixty-three schools qualified for the funding. Dozens of other schools, including the thirty-three mentioned above, were denied funding because they failed to connect their Ohio operations to those in other states. This seems like a fair result. It would have been incredibly concerning if a large group of schools was able to sidestep the standards every other Ohio charter had to strive for purely because of a distant association with an out-of-state entity.
At the end of the day, every existing charter school in Ohio was given the same opportunity to earn a portion of these funds. Sixty-three of them did, and they deserve credit for that. Hopefully over the next few years, many more charters—including those that applied and fell short this time—will improve and earn funding in the next round. Until then, policymakers would be wise to revisit the language and make it crystal clear that the out-of-state option is intended only for operators who haven’t yet had the opportunity to achieve success in Ohio.