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Cautionary tale comes from Ohio

Will the seven schools whose charters have been revoked actually close? Ohio’s experience suggests otherwise. Policy Matters Ohio released a report this month showing that eight of 20 charter schools shut down for academic failure continue to operate in the same location and with primarily the same staff, but under a different name. One of the seven schools is operated by Leona Group, the for-profit charter management organization that oversees Timothy L. Johnson Academy. Bill Coats, a former FWCS superintendent, is the founder and CEO of Leona.

“They’ve essentially kept the same schools,” said Piet van Lier, an education researcher and the report’s co-author. “It’s a shortcoming in Ohio law. It holds the charter school board responsible and has some sanctions, but it doesn’t hold the charter management company responsible.”

The same scenario could play out in Indiana, where charter school law was weakened two years ago to allow non-public universities and colleges to sponsor charters, as well as a new politically controlled state charter school board. The latter approved the Fort Wayne Urban League’s Thurgood Marshall Academy in the East Allen County Schools district and did not object when the school instead opened within FWCS boundaries. Grace College in Winona Lake is sponsor of Fort Wayne’s second new charter, the Smith Academy for Excellence.

“It’s something to be aware of and pay attention to,” Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said of the Ohio schools. “If a school approaches them, the most meaningful thing an authorizer could look at is past performance. These are schools that have a track record. That is real information about quality.”

If Indiana lawmakers are sincere in their effort to provide quality school choices, they will tighten charter law this session to prevent charter management companies from continuing to operate the same schools under new names and authorizers.

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