Published Online: August 3, 2009

Ohio Lawmaker: End Charter School Moratorium

Ohio should end a moratorium on new charter schools so the state can compete for additional federal stimulus money, a GOP state lawmaker said.

State Sen. Jon Husted of Kettering said Friday the state's limits on charter schools may prevent it from competing for money from President Obama's $4.35 billion Race to the Top grants. The grants are considered the largest amount of discretionary funding K-12 education in the nation's history.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently wrote in an opinion piece that states that cap the number of charter schools "will be at a competitive disadvantage."

Dangling the promise of the grants, Obama has pressured states to embrace his ideas for overhauling the nation's schools, ideas that include performance pay for teachers and charter schools. To get the money, state officials may have to do things they, or the teachers' unions, dislike. But in a recession that is starving state budgets, the new "Race to the Top" fund is proving impossible for some states to resist.

Already, seven states — Tennessee, Rhode Island, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado and Illinois — have lifted restrictions on charter schools so they can compete for the money.

Husted does not favor the economic stimulus plan that Congress approved earlier this year under President Obama's leadership. But he said Ohio, which has roughly 300 charter schools that educate roughly 88,000 children, should make sure it can compete for the money.

"We should attempt to put ourselves in the position to secure these resources," said Husted, an ardent supporter of charter schools and a former speaker of the Ohio House.

But Democrats, who are generally more skeptical of charter schools, believe Ohio may be able to compete for the federal funds even with the limits in place. State Rep. Stephen Dyer, an Akron-area Democrat, says the federal government may take note of important exceptions to Ohio's moratorium.

The 2007 moratorium exempted the state's eight large urban districts, as well as districts rated in academic watch or academic emergency.

"The feds might look at that differently than a strict moratorium," Dyer said.

Amanda Wurst, spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, said the administration expects Ohio to be competitive for the federal dollars. She said the state is awaiting further guidance from Duncan's department before seeking a specific amount.

Husted said he soon plans to introduce legislation that would lift the limits on charter schools. He said his legislation, like current law, will require sponsors and operators to have proven track records running successful schools.

"I wouldn't want people to believe that we are opening the door for anybody to open a school," Husted said.

In the latest state budget, Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise on charter schools that left funding for the schools essentially intact. Strickland originally proposed more than a $200 million cut in charter school funding.

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