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Charter schools need fixing

This is a moment of rare opportunity in Ohio politics. Everyone — Republicans and Democrats, Gov. John Kasich, strong advocates for public schools and supporters of school choice — agrees that Ohio’s charter schools need fixing.

The Ohio system, which receives roughly $1 billion in public funding and serves more than 120,000 students, has become a national embarrassment.

Problems with the system have been well-documented, but most jarring are too many poor outcomes in a weakly regulated system fueled by the power of political money. A study at Stanford found students learn less in Ohio’s charter schools than in traditional districts by a margin of nearly three fewer weeks of equivalent instruction in reading and more than a month in math.

House Bill 2, now moving through the Ohio Legislature, is an opportunity to get things right. While the current version of the bill improves upon the original, it still falls short of improving accountability for the spending of public dollars. Transparency equals accountability, and the problem is particularly acute with the common practice of sponsoring organizations paying third parties to operate the schools.

Advocates of greater secrecy are simply wrong when they say taxpayers should have no meaningful ability to track what happens to the money after it gets to those third-party operators.

State Auditor Dave Yost has it right when he says that charter operators aren’t cutting the lawns, they are taking over the essential functions of providing a quality education – a core responsibility of government under the Ohio Constitution. Extra scrutiny should come with that territory.

We would require that checkbook-level detail be available under Ohio’s open records law to track the expenditure of public funds by charter schools, just as it is for public schools.

Anything short of that will not provide the necessary accountability for what is happening to almost $1 billion in tax dollars and, more importantly, to our children. The Ohio House of Representatives should amend House Bill 2 to ensure that happens.