Friday, February 08, 2002

More charter school sponsorship urged

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Department of Education will recommend that lawmakers dramatically increase the number of groups that can sponsor charter schools while reducing the state's direct oversight over those schools.

        The department, scolded in a state audit Thursday for mishandling Ohio's charter school system, also will urge lawmakers to adopt dozens of the 109 recommendations made by State Auditor Jim Petro.

        At least 40 percent of those will require changes to the law, both Mr. Petro and the department estimated.

        The department on Monday will recommend to the state school board that it support changes to Ohio's charter school law recommended by Mr. Petro, said David Varda, director of the department's Center for School Finance and Accountability.

        That includes one of Mr. Pet- ro's most significant recommendations, that the state revamp the way it sponsors and oversees charter schools.

        Currently, only seven public institutions sponsor Ohio's 92 charter schools. Seventy-five are sponsored by the Education Department.

        Under Mr. Petro's proposal, all schools and universities, along with cities, other municipalities and not-for-profit organizations would sponsor schools. The department would have a role in determining who receives a charter, but in essence would leave direct oversight to those sponsors.

        “We're very comfortable with that recommendation,” Mr. Varda said. However, the department hasn't decided whether to support allowing cities and other non-educational groups to sponsor a school, he said.

        A Dayton-area lawmaker who is pushing an overhaul of Ohio's charter school law, including a separate agency for charter schools, said he will add Mr. Petro's recommendations to his bill.

        “This audit validates what I have been saying all along,” said Rep. Jon Husted of Kettering. “I knew that our community schools law and the enforcement of that law were inadequate to the point that we were setting many schools up for failure.”

        In the audit, Mr. Petro criticized the state school board and the Education Department for failing to properly monitor, promote and help charter schools.

        Mr. Petro said lawmakers should give the state 60 days to improve its handling of charter schools or consider stripping the department of its charter school responsibilities.

        “It's time to fish or cut bait,” Mr. Petro said Thursday. “If you can't do this, or if you're not willing to devote the resources to it, maybe the Legislature should.”

        Ohio's charter schools have 23,000 students. The state estimates it will pay the schools about $131 million this year.


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