by Liku Zelleke
When it comes to charter schools, Columbus, Oh., seems to be the worst city to open or attend one. According to reports, the city has had 29 percent of the schools closed since 1997 – 17 of them in 2013 alone – a, so far, unprecedented record.
At the beginning of 2013 there was just one long-struggling charter school that was closed. During the summer, 5 more followed suit. Finally, in the fall, 11 more did. Most of them were brand new – of the 17 schools that were closed, nine of them had only been open for a few months. Some of the closed charters even still had “Enroll Now” banners hanging outside.
When the schools closed, more than 250 students had to search for new schools. Financially, the state had spent more than $1.6 million, in taxpayers’ money, to keep the schools open from August to October or November alone.
Charter schools became legal in Ohio in 1997. These schools are publicly funded, but often privately run. At present there are nearly 400 charter schools in the state with about 75 percent of them in Columbus.
Among the reasons for the abrupt closures of the schools the most common one was “money troubles.” There were those that had to close because they were unable to pay their staff or were forced to do so due to lack of sponsorships.
Other schools were forced to close due to health and safety issues. Reasons ranged from students not getting lunches that were nutritious enough to the buildings not being up to sanitary codes.
Since the state auditor began auditing charter school finances in 2000 it has found that, to date, 100 schools have misspent a total of $22.6 million. Many of them are closed.
Advocates and critics alike of the charter school system agree that one way to avoid such rash opening and closing of schools was to do a better job in deciding who should and shouldn’t be allowed to open.
Regarding this, John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said “The way it works right now is if a school has a sponsor, and they sign a contract – that school can open. We don’t have any approval or denial power.”