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Last updated: January 11, 2013 6:03 p.m.

Charter schools' nine lives

Karen Francisco
The Journal Gazette

Policy Matters Ohio examined the effects of the Buckeye State's charter accountability law and found that schools supposedly shut down by the rules continue to operate.

"Since the charter-closure law went into effect in 2008, 20 schools across the state have met closure criteria, and all are currently listed as closed by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE)," according to the new report. "But an investigation of the schools by Policy Matters revealed that eight schools – and the management companies that run them – have found ways to skirt the closure law and remain open, severely undermining the law's effectiveness and highlighting the lax accountability that prevails in Ohio's charter sector. For-profit managers – the Leona Group, Mosaica Education and White Hat Management – operate six of the reopened schools."

Leona Group, headed by former Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Bill Coats, operates the Timothy L. Johnson Academy in Fort Wayne.

The Policy Matters report points to a loophole in the closure law: "While Ohio law sets up charter school boards as the entity to be held legally responsible for a school's academic and financial performance, it does not do the same for management companies, many of them for-profit, that are contracted by schools to manage their daily operations. These companies are often in charge of making major decisions for a school, including hiring and firing teachers, assessing academic performance, contracting with vendors, budgeting, developing curriculum, and providing basic classroom materials. Yet the closure law places no penalty on (charter management organizations) when their schools meet academic closure criteria. This omission creates a loophole for managers to keep closed schools open and continue to receive public funds for failing schools."

As Ball State University prepares to consider renewal of many of its struggling Indiana charter schools, including the Johnson Academy, it shouldbe interesting to watch how the CMOs affected respond if the university declines to renew their charters. GEO Foundation CEO Kevin Teasley already appears to be looking for a way around closing.

"The state didn't close (Gary Roosevelt High School); instead it did turnaround and takeover," Teasley told the Post-Tribune. "They brought in another model. If a school is low-performing, they can close it or open it up to bids from other educational service providers and give them a one-year contract."

Hmmm. I thought charter schools were all about accountability. Charter supporters like Teasley insisted that if they didn't perform, they would close. Guess that seemed like a better idea in the abstract.

On a related matter, Steve Hinnefeld expertly points out the spin on Stanford's recent charter school study at his School Matters blog.