Saturday, June 30, 2001

Middletown joins charter suit

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        MIDDLETOWN — Middletown schools have joined a suit that questions the stringency of education offered at charter schools, which receive state dollars for public school students who attend them.

        The Middletown City Schools have joined a class-action lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Ohio's community schools law and the Ohio Department of Education's implementation of that law.

        The 4-year-old law allows for the creation of charter or community schools that are considered public schools by the state, said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). When a child enrolls in such a school, the money that normally would go to his or her public school district is sent to the community school.

        It is that loss of public funds and the differing standards charter school operate under, which many public schools deem less stringent, that prompted the lawsuit, opponents of charter schools say. There were 69 such schools listed in the 2000-01 Ohio Educational Directory, published by ODE.

        The suit was filed last month in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Plaintiffs include the Ohio School Boards Association, (OSBA), the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, the Ohio Congress of Parents and Teachers, and others. Defendants are the Ohio Board of Education, Ohio's superintendent of public instruction, the Ohio Department of Education and the Lucas County Educational Service Center.

        Last week the Middletown Board of Education became the first school board to join that lawsuit, said Pat Schmitz, deputy director of legal services for OSBA. All of the state's 21 urban districts have been asked to participate. The Cincinnati and Hamilton boards of education are reviewing the lawsuit but have made no decision yet on whether to join.

        “This is all about charter schools,” Middletown Superintendent Wayne Driscoll said. “They're not even close to the stringent measures we would apply to our schools. They're not monitored the same.”

        “Clearly, we want to make sure choices are available,” said Dr. Mark Frazer, president of the Middletown Board of Education. “But we want to make sure (charter schools) are well-founded and well-monitored.”

        No hearing date has been set yet on the complaint.


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