COLUMBUS, Ohio — The major charter school reform bill that the state legislature debated all year easily won final approval this afternoon, sending a package of changes to financial, academic performance and governance rules to Gov. John Kasich.
A late controversy over a ban on some charter school employees being able to participate in state pension plans did not derail the bill, after legislative leaders promised to review that portion to make sure it had no “unintended consequences.”
There have been conflicting reports today about how many charter school employees — teachers and other staff — could be blocked from joining the pension plans. State senators said on the floor that it would only apply to a small number of schools, with House Democrats saying it would include all new charter school employees.
The bill, updated with 32 mostly minor changes by a joint legislative committee on Tuesday, passed 91-6 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate.
After the vote, other state officials and education advocates lined up to cheer a bill that ended with the strong support of both parties and from charter school backers and opponents alike.
Jim Lynch, a spokesman for Kasich, said the governor will sign the bill, which includes some changes he proposed.
Charter school and school choice advocates, like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Fordham Institute and StudentsFirst Ohio, offered praise. They were joined by the Ohio Education Association and some advocacy groups normally opposed to charter schools.
Within the legislature, State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a vocal critic of charter schools, called the pension restriction “incredibly unfortunate” and said that change probably prevented the bill from passing unanimously.
But she told the House before the vote that she was satisfied with the promised review of the pension change and that she was “proud to stand totally in support of this bill.”
Fedor said Ohio’s charter schools have been used as a opportunity for “entrepreneurship and profiteering” for several years, but the law adds transparency and accountability that gives students a real chance at receiving a good education at charters now.
State Rep. Kiristina Roegner, a Hudson Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, praised the final version proclaiming, “At the end of the day, the winners will be Ohio’s children.”
“This gives us the opportunity to have charter schools that we can be proud of,” Lehner said.
Yost particularly singled out Lehner for showing “imagination and courage” in championing the bill.
As we reported yesterday, the bill makes several small changes that, as a whole, will tighten operations of the $1 billion charter school industry that lags behind traditional public schools and is the subject of national ridicule, even from charter school advocates.
Among items adjusted or added to the final version on Tuesday are a “White Hat rule” that prevents private charter operators from keeping equipment bought with state tax money; a cautious approach to study, not adopt, a new way of rating schools; and modest adjustments to how ratings of charter school oversight agencies are calculated.
Still intact, with only minor adjustments, are changes designed to distance the often-cozy relationships between for-profit charter school operating companies and the school boards that govern the schools.
It also includes a financial reporting change Yost sought, even after being rebuffed by the House in its version of the bill this spring. Until now, charter school operators have reported how they spent money only by listing it in five or six broad categories.
The new bill requires them to report spending for 20 categories, with each having separate breakdowns of how much was spent on instructional costs vs. administrative costs.
Click here for our longer explanation of the changes.
Lynch said the changes are consistent with “what Kasich sought in the state budget bill this year, before all charter school issues were moved to this bill.
“We applaud the Ohio General Assembly for its work to clamp down on bad charter schools and hold them more accountable with new enforcement tools,” Lynch said. “Strengthening our K-12 education system means putting our children first, and this legislation goes a long way towards ensuring that students in all schools have a chance to achieve their full potential.”
Charter school and school choice advocates backed making changes to strengthen Ohio’s charter school sector, while pushing back at times to limit controls.
Darlene Chambers, CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the new rules are critical for Ohio to have “sustainable education choice.”
“The passage of this bill represents significant progress in Ohio’s response to replicate already existing best practices of quality community schools,” she said. “Every child in this state deserves equity, access and a safe school environment where they can learn and grow.”
StudentsFirst called the bill “a major step forward in ensuring that Ohio’s charter schools will be held more accountable for educating Ohio school kids.”
The Fordham Institute was a major player in developing the law, partly through its sponsorship of two studies that informed the debate — analysis of the academic performance of Ohio charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research of Education Outcomes (CREDO) and a separate study by Bellwether Education Partners of what gaps Ohio had in its charter laws and support system.
Click here for more on the CREDO study.
See the full Bellwether report, called “The Road to Redemption”, HERE.
Chad Aldis, Fordham’s vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy, lobbied for changes all year.
“The reforms in House Bill 2 have the potential to give new life to Ohio’s charter school sector,” Aldis said in a written statement. “By holding accountable the entities that regulate, oversee, and manage charter schools, we can create an environment where high performing charter schools grow and prosper and low performers are shuttered.”
Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins said, “We applaud state lawmakers for taking action at long last to improve the oversight and accountability of Ohio’s charter schools. With the enactment of stronger laws, the burden will now fall on the Ohio Department of Education to make sure sponsors and operators of charter schools fulfill their mission and provide positive educational outcomes for Ohio’s students.”