An activist group says it is time for Madison Countians along with the rest of Ohio to combat charter schools, which they argue drain taxpayer dollars.
Dr. Bill Phillis, director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy for School Funding (OCEASF) and Dr. Bob Smith held a press briefing at the Madison County Courthouse Thursday morning, laying out documents showing how money leaves the public school system for private charter schools.
“What is a charter school? A lot of folks think it’s a kind of public school,” said Phillis. “They’re not. These are privately operated, not public. Most are run by nonprofits, which means they aren’t subject to public records requests.”
Phillis said that was one of the main concerns of his organization — a lack of accountability primarily over taxpayer dollars.
To fund charter schools, portions of state aid given to public schools is deducted and sent to the charter schools based on the number of students in the charter.
One of the other speakers, Andy Wilson, who is president of the Fairborn School board, said that in his district, the state gives $4,000 per pupil but deducts more than $7,000 should that pupil leave.
“If that student comes back, which they often do, who foots the bill?” he asked. “The school district does, with no additional aid.”
According to data OCEASF received from the Ohio Department of Education, the total amount of money leaving Madison County school districts for charters totals about $3 million.
Phillis and his associates also highlighted virtual schools, which offer online only courses such as ECOT and Ohio Virtual Academy. ECOT was a particular focus for the speakers.
The school’s reported enrollment of 15,000 Ohio students makes it one of the largest online charter schools in the United States.
“During the 2015 to 2016 school year, 60 percent of kids enrolled could not be verified for participating in their programs,” said Phillis. “And the money comes locally.”
Recently the online charter school group was in court over $60 million in disputed state payments, due to the discrepancy of attendance numbers.
On Wednesday, an appeals court unanimously denied a request by the group to block an order by the Ohio Department of Education, which asked for some funds to return. The school sought to block the Ohio Board of Education’s vote on the matter, which is scheduled for Monday, June 12.
Smith read off the total state dollars Madison County boards give to the online school.
“ECOT alone costs London City Schools $129,000. Again, that’s just ECOT,” he said. “Madison-Plains puts in $141,000, and I hear they’re asking for a levy? West Jefferson, $59,000 and Jonathan Alder $62,000. ECOT alone in all four school districts takes $393,000 from Madison County.”
The activists said they understand the want or interest in charter schools as alternatives to public schools. Wilson says his district sponsors a school that focuses on getting low achieving students to graduate and recover lost credits.
Phillis argues, however, taxpayer money should go to public schools and publicly run schools. He says that he thinks that if parents want an alternative school to send their children to, it should come at their cost, citing the Ohio Constitution requirement that the state “will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.”
“What if I don’t like my local police force, and I ask for a voucher to run my own private security?” he said. “Or the fire department. When you break it down, it’s a system of public services that are required. I didn’t always have kids in the school system; I currently don’t. But I know this is something required for the common social order.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.