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Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Increasing choices


Back to school: Ohio update

Ohio's school choice programs - vouchers and charter schools - received small, but noteworthy booster shots this year from the legislature.

The Cleveland voucher program, upheld last summer by the U.S. Supreme Court, now extends to high school students. When it started in 1995, it included only kindergarten through third grade and added a new grade each year before it was capped at grade 8.

Thanks to an amendment backed by Rep. Jon Husted, R-Kettering, the high school extension is included in the Governor's budget. So Cleveland students who started school with voucher help can continue at high schools of their choice - at least until the next state budget.

Another education option - public charter schools - also has been improved for the new school year. Ohio's charter law, having survived a court challenge, has been revised to strengthen accountability and access.

The law had allowed charter schools only in the state's big urban districts and a few distressed rural ones. The State Board of Education was the primary authorization authority.

The legislature rewrote the law, giving more groups, including universities and local districts, the ability to charter these alternative public schools. More importantly, the legislature created the Ohio Charter School Sponsor Institute to train and develop the authorizing institutions. It's not a perfect law, but the new rules should allow more charter school sponsors to come forward, be accountable overseers and offer more school choices for Ohio families.

The public appetite for these options grows each year. Applications for the Cleveland school vouchers, which are worth $2,250 tuition help at any private school, grew by 2,200 new applications, or 10 percent this school year.

The number of public charter schools in Ohio has grown steadily to 133 this school year. So far, ODE has approved money for four new schools this fall, with more expected before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Ohio should keep testing and refining school choices. Options such as these are giving thousands of families educational opportunities for their children that never existed before.




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