For many years, first-rate charter networks looked at Ohio and immediately “swiped left.” Sadly, the state’s charter sector had a well-earned reputation for, was too often mired in , and suffered from .
But all that is rapidly changing due to bold policy reforms—so much so that Ohio is quickly transforming into an attractive locale for high-performing schools. Two critical policy advancements are creating a healthy environment where quality charters can take root.
- Recognizing the need to overhaul , the General Assembly passed landmark in 2015. The notable changes include strengthening charter authorizer policies to demand more responsible oversight practices; closing statutory loopholes that allowed chronically low-performing schools to escape accountability; and enacting several commonsense governance provisions. These forceful reforms have reshaped the charter sector. Dozens of low-capacity authorizers and poor-performing , including an abysmal , have gone away. This sifting process is restoring confidence that charters can govern themselves responsibly, and it’s helping to protect the reputation of top performers. Most importantly, these reforms are starting to bear fruit when it comes to pupil achievement: School ratings and a recent CREDO both indicate that brick-and-mortar charter performance is on the upswing.
- Cognizant of the state’s large charter-funding , Governor Mike DeWine and the legislature just this month enacted a milestone appropriation that drives additional state dollars to . Over the next two years, $60 million—up to $1,750 per low-income student—in supplemental funding will be disbursed to quality charters so that they can increase their capacity to serve more children in need of a great education. Importantly, these funds are also available to stellar national charter networks seeking to expand into the Buckeye State. Overall, the passage of this funding program demonstrates an appetite among lawmakers to leverage state dollars to support great charters, and it represents a big step forward in efforts to narrow funding disparities.
While Ohio’s policy environment for charters has dramatically improved, the need for extraordinary, beat-the-odds charter schools remains acute. Consider just a few data points about students attending schools in Ohio’s “Big Eight” cities—areas that have historically faced major educational challenges. (For a more comprehensive review, see this.) Figure 1 shows that seventh grade proficiency rates slump well below the state average and are mostly stuck in the 30s, even dipping as low as 19 percent in Youngstown.
Figure 1: Seventh grade ELA and proficiency across Ohio Big Eight districts, 2017–18
Note: The statewide average in seventh grade ELA and math was 64 and 59 percent, respectively.
The next figure reveals depressingly low percentages of students reaching the state’sbenchmarks on the ACT or SAT exams.
Figure 2: Remediation-free ACT or SAT scores across Ohio Big Eight districts, classes of 2016 and 2017
Note: The statewide average remediation-free rate was 26 percent.
Last, we see that too few Big Eight schools, whether district or charter, make significant impacts on student growth over time. Figure 3 shows that just 17 percent of district schools in the Big Eight achieved an A or B on the state’s “” growth measure. Meanwhile, 64 percent received an F. Unfortunately, students stuck in these low-rated schools are unlikely to be making the progress needed to reach rigorous academic benchmarks by the time they exit high school.
Figure 3: Distribution of overall value-added ratings across Big Eight schools (district and charter), 2017–18
Ohio has a lot going for it. Wallet Hub, for instance, recently ranked Ohio as one of the top states in the nation forand CNBC just rated us the . We’ve got great parks, beautiful lakefront, prestigious colleges and universities, museums, big-time athletics, and hopping (or hipster, if that’s your thing) urban areas.
Thanks to state legislators’ courageous reforms, Ohio is undergoing a renaissance in its charter school sector. Yet the need for excellent schools remains great. Tens of thousands of students, many from less prosperous backgrounds, are still waiting for a life-changing education. For all the terrific charter networks out there: Will you join us?