Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Lawsuit: Charter schools illegal, unconstitutional

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Ohio's charter school system violates the Ohio Constitution and state law, a coalition of education groups and teachers unions charged Monday in a lawsuit.

        State officials have allowed for-profit companies to control and operate charter schools and allowed at least three private schools to be illegally converted to charter schools, according to the lawsuit filed by the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

        The union was joined by nine other groups,including the Ohio School Boards Association and teachers unions in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

        Current charter school law — enacted in 1997 — also violates the Ohio Constitution because charter schools aren't part of a state system of common schools, the lawsuit said.

        Charter schools — called community schools in Ohio — are publicly funded but privately run and free from some state regulations such as providing transportation and hiring nonlicensed teachers.

        They receive basic state aid and limited startup money. Ohio has 17,000 students in 68 charter schools.

        The lawsuit targets the state school board, state school Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman and the Lucas County Educational Service Center.

        The lawsuit specifically charges that two companies — White Hat Management Co. in Akron and Altair Learning in Columbus — are being allowed to run for-profit schools in violation of state law.

        White Hat runs 13 charter schools in Akron, Cincinnati and Cleveland and is scheduled to open 18 more, according to the lawsuit.

        Cincinnati Public Schools has three charter schools sponsored by the district's school board, said CPS Charter Schools Manager John Rothwell. Ten other charter schools now operating in Cincinnati are sponsored by the state board of education.

        CPS' three charter schools are: The Lighthouse Commmunity School in Madisonville and East End Community Heritage School, both of which opened this school year, and the ISUS Trade and Technology School in the West End, scheduled to open next school year.

        Mr. Rothwell said CPS' charter schools are accountable to local control because they are sponsored by the local school board.


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