Amherst Schools take up arms in charter funding fight

By Jason Hawk -

<p style="text-align: right;">Graphic by Sar Maroof

Graphic by Sar Maroof

Add another bill to the growing stack in Columbus. This time it’s the Amherst Schools sending a huge invoice, asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars back.

Following the lead of Firelands and other activist districts, the Amherst board of education voted Monday to charge the state for losses related to charter schools.

“We lose about $645,000 a year to charter schools through the method of funding that’s currently in place in Ohio,” said superintendent Steven Sayers.

Here’s the problem, as he sees it: Amherst gets $2,610 per pupil in state-share funding, but Ohio deducts $5,800 from the school district for each student who enrolls at a charter school.

Local taxpayers have to make up the $3,190 difference, not the state.

The hit is more than a one-mill Amherst Schools levy would generate — roughly $544,000 — Sayers said.

The school board voted 4-0 (member Bob Kamnikar was absent) to direct district treasurer Barbara Donohue to send a bill asking the state to pay up.

“Ohio must fund charter schools in a way that does not penalize local public schools and must take into account its impact on the more than 90 percent of Ohio public school students who are not in charters,” the board’s resolution said.

That language is being weighed by school officials all across Lorain County. Sayers said Elyria and Keystone have signed similar resolutions calling for state funding reform.

The Firelands Schools, which also cover part of the city of Amherst and townships to the west, sent the same message to the state in December.

Firelands taxpayers have handed over $3.8 million in public money to private charters since 2002, the board of education said, calling the losses “an unfair expense” created by “Ohio’s failed charter school experiment.”

Charter schools have become a $1 billion industry in the state.

William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, calls Ohio’s charter system a “failed boondoggle” that started as a $10 million experiment in 1999.

In a November speech at the Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference in Columbus, he urged local educators to “challenge the state’s unconstitutional, inadequate, inequitable school funding system.”

Phillis’ recommendations included invoicing the Ohio Department of Education for lost charter school funds.

Also on the list: appealing to the U.S. Department of Education to withdraw $71 million in grant funding for Ohio charter school expansion; demanding an independent investigation of the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office; demanding spending limits on marketing campaigns by charter schools; opposing the transfer of local funds to charters; and more.

“The charter industry is a parasite on the public common school system,” Phillis said. “It drains valuable resources from a system that is underfunded and over-mandated. It is time to draw a line in the sand.”

But the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools says the idea that charters divert funds from public schools is a myth.

“Charter schools generally operate with just two-thirds of the per-pupil funding provided for traditional public school students, and those funds must be allocated to cover the significant costs of facilities and transportation,” the organization says on its website. “With very limited exceptions, Ohio charter schools receive no portion of local share or levy funding.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Graphic by Sar Maroof

Graphic by Sar Maroof

By Jason Hawk