Chartering in Ohio—Coming of Age

I heard from many sources at the Ohio Charter Schools Conference November 12-13, that this state conference was “their most productive ever.” Ohio chartering is now 18 years old, and as the conference theme denotes, chartering in Ohio is “Coming of Age.” The timing is good to build on that momentum to restart the public conversation, dispel chartering myths, and rebuild trust with the public and within the sector. I was pleased to be part of this conference conversation as keynote speaker and breakout session leader.

Today there are close to 400 charter public schools in Ohio serving nearly 130,000 students. There continues to be demand for quality school options. In Cleveland, 40% of the public schools are charter schools, serving 33% of all public school students in Cleveland. In an unusual policy twist, start-up charter schools are allowed only in the eight urban areas of Ohio.

The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, under the fresh leadership of Dr. Darlene Chambers and her team, made a commitment over the last year to work with Ohio legislators to put chartering on a quality path for the future by codifying already existing best practices. Working together with a broad coalition of the chartering community, legislators listened. On October 7, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 2 with significant bipartisan endorsement and general editorial support from the state’s major media outlets.

According to Dr. Chamber’s Commentary in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the bill, signed by the governor, achieved its founding purpose: to provide greater oversight of sponsors, more transparency in school operations, and higher accountability in board governance. As Dr. Chambers often says, “educational opportunities should not depend on a family’s address or zip code.” Amen.

But “Coming of Age” means the work has just begun. Now it is up to the entire chartering community in Ohio to work together and accomplish the goals in the new legislation—from the state, to the sponsors, to the governing boards to the charter schools themselves. Yes, everyone can celebrate differences, but everyone must also work together to achieve the ultimate goal—provide excellent public education for the children of Ohio.

To the leaders of the charter sector: The charter community can and must lead this new chapter in chartering in Ohio. That success will only occur with the entire sector working together, creating common goals and common voice. If this happens, Ohio chartering will truly “Come of Age” to ensure that every charter school child receives the quality education he or she deserves.