NEWS: Students in Ohio Capitalizing on School Choice Opportunities

From The Columbus Dispatch:

If you lumped all of Franklin County’s charter-school and voucher students into one district, it would be bigger than the South-Western school district.

Those 21,794 children would make up the sixth-largest school district in Ohio. Nearly 12 percent of publicly funded students in the county attend charter schools or use a state-funded voucher to attend private ones.

In the Columbus school district alone, about 24 percent of children being schooled on the state’s dime have chosen charters or are using vouchers. And in Groveport Madison, one in five students has left for a charter or uses a voucher.

And this is with a state cap on the number of vouchers, a ban on new charter e-schools and limits on where charters can operate and who can open one.

Expanding school choice is a key part of Gov. John Kasich’s biennial budget proposal. His plan would open the door to more charters and would quadruple the number of vouchers, over time, to 56,000.

Critics of school choice say Kasich has “declared war on public schools.”

Knowing how many parents already have chosen options outside of traditional school districts “makes an abstract conversation much more concrete,” said Mark Real, president and CEO of Kids-

Ohio, a Columbus nonprofit that conducts education research.

“What you see in the urban counties is about

10 percent of all publicly funded kids are in charters.”

Statewide, more than 99,000 students attend charter schools.

The existing limits on school choice in Ohio haven’t prevented parents from seeking options.

“I think it is a big statement that so many families have opted for something different. It’s a testament to ‘one size doesn’t fit all,'” said Chad Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio.

New charter schools can open only if they’re affiliated with another successful one. That hasn’t stunted growth: Forty-one new charters opened statewide this school year.

There are 69 in Franklin County.

A new left-leaning group called Innovation Ohio says that taxpayers and students are harmed by the growth of charters. The organization is led by one of former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s policy advisers.

“The only justification for a charter school is if it provides a child a better education than what they’re getting in a traditional public school,” said group spokesman Dale Butland.

But Butland argues that charters don’t, citing the percentage of charters that earn “A” or “B” ratings from the state (21 percent), compared with traditional public schools (72 percent). The number the group cites includes charter schools that serve students who have dropped out.

But Real said there’s a tendency to oversimplify the school-choice debate.

“We see this too often as either/or. Either ‘I’m for the district school’ or ‘I’m for the charter school.’ We’ve got to stop demonizing these choices and adjust to the reality of the fact that there are going to be more and more families who make the choice to go back and forth,” he said.

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