Two Cleveland Voucher Schools Plan Rebirth With Charter Status

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Clevelanders may soon bear witness to an educational reincarnation: the death of two voucher schools and their rebirth as charter schools.

Businessman David Brennan, who three years ago founded two private schools expressly to serve students in Cleveland's state-enacted voucher program, said both were shut down last month. The two schools, called the Hope Academies, served more than 400 students in grades K-5 this year.

But on the very same sites only a few months later, Mr. Brennan said, two charter schools will be set up based on the Hope Academy model, which emphasizes the use of additional teaching aides, tutors, and technology to give students individualized instruction."From the principal on down, they'll be the same," he said.

Yet, Mr. Brennan maintains, the move is not a "conversion." The state's 1997 charter law forbids converting private schools that existed prior to that year into "community schools," Ohio's term for charter schools. Instead, the academies will be replaced by charter schools run by new nonprofit groups over which Mr. Brennan said he would have no governing authority.

He expects, however, that the charter schools will contract with his education management firm in much the same way that five other Ohio charter schools have. Based in Akron, Mr. Brennan's for-profit White Hat Management provides schools with educational technology, teacher training, and personnel services.

The state already has approved the contracts that will be used for the two charter schools, which should be open by the fall, Mr. Brennan said.

If the metamorphosis takes place as Mr. Brennan describes it, "it could be done," said Steve Ramsey, who oversees charter schools at the state education department.

Money Matters

Under Ohio's school choice laws, contracting with a charter school is significantly more advantageous than running a voucher school. While the Cleveland voucher program gives parents publicly funded scholarships of up to $2,250 per child to pay private school tuition, charter schools there get at least $4,500 per student directly from the state.

"A system funded at the level of the Cleveland voucher plan doesn't provide enough money to sustain a school that's started from scratch," Mr. Brennan argued.

Upon learning about the change, critics charged that it shows Mr. Brennan's primary concern is with the bottom line.

"I think it raises a lot of issues as to why charter schools were passed in Ohio, which I think was for making money for David Brennan," said Ronald Marec, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

But Mr. Brennan maintained that the move was primarily prompted by families' concerns about the stability of the two voucher schools throughout the lengthy litigation surrounding the Cleveland program. Parents of voucher students have worried their children would be without a school if court action eliminated the program, he said.

'Erratic' Policies

Mr. Brennan said he expects that many of the students from the Hope Academies will prefer to stay with the voucher program and will not attend the new charter schools.

Some school choice experts say changes between voucher and charter status are inevitable as long as those different types of schools receive different levels of public funding.

"If you're going to put charter schools and voucher programs in the same place, everyone should have the same resources available per child," said Paul E. Peterson, who directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. "I think we have developed in the country an erratic set of policies on vouchers and charters. This is a topic that needs to be addressed."

Vol. 18, Issue 42, Pages 17-20

Published in Print: July 14, 1999, as Two Cleveland Voucher Schools Plan Rebirth With Charter Status
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