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Charter Schools need more oversight

Choice. America's life in the fast lane gives us loads of choices. From choosing breakfast cereal with raisins or yogurt bites, to driving a gas powered or a hybrid car, we've come to consider choice as a right, not a privilege.

Over the past 10 years, there has been an explosion of choices available through Ohio's public education system. With the rapid growth of charter schools and school voucher programs, parents at all economic levels have many choices. But what effect do these choices have on schools systems struggling to meet basic academic and facility standards?

In Columbus, we have seen the opening and closing of several charter schools, including the recent debacle at Harte Crossroads Academy. It was my nephew's school. At first, the school seemed to be a great alternative. He has learning disabilities that are helped in an environment with smaller class sizes and more individual attention.

Although the teachers were caring and professional, they, along with my nephew, got caught in a web of deceit and mismanagement. When the school abruptly closed in March, students and parents were not given any notice, leaving them scrambling to find a school with only several weeks left in the academic year.

There are some good charter schools that are operated by reputable non-profit organizations. But, I believe the growth of charter schools is directly connected to state money being granted to for-profit companies. The goal is making money, not fostering academic development for Ohio's children.

There have been many news stories on White Hat Management, Inc., a for-profit corporation that operates charter schools. White Hat serves approximately 16,000 students in Ohio. White Hat has been criticized for poor academic performance at many of its schools, coupled with a rapid expansion that netted millions in profits to the company.

White Hat spotlights the lack of public accountability charter schools have to parents and all Ohio taxpayers. Governor Ted Strickland is right to call for more accountability from charter school operators.

Governor Strickland wants to impose a moratorium on new charter schools, and he believes the state should prohibit for-profit management companies from running charter schools. He added that the state should increase scrutiny of all charter schools to determine if they meet educational and fiscal standards.

The Governor's call for a moratorium on opening new charter schools makes a lot of sense. Which is why is very perplexing that the republican-controlled Legislature removed this crucial step from the Governors budget. It makes you wonder who the legislature is accountable to Ohio's children who have a right to a quality public education, or the corporations filling their coffers with public funds.

In the end, it's the children who don't have a choice, especially poor children since many of the charter schools operate in urban school districts. These companies are getting a free lunch of big profits on the backs of Ohio school children. It's a free lunch that also costs school districts, which are cutting programs in response to failed tax levies. And as a consequence, the public has bigger expectations for schools to do more with less.

It's a shame that some charter school companies believe is their right, not a choice, to milk the system. As taxpayers, we have a responsiblity . . put pressure on the Ohio Legislature to make charter schools more accountable. We really don't have a choice.