By Megan Alley
There was a full house at the West Clermont Public School Advocacy kickoff meeting, held Oct. 14 in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Center at Glen Este High School.
The meeting was led by West Clermont Local School District Superintendent Keith Kline, who encouraged school staff, parents, students and community members to learn more about the effect that charter schools have on public education.
“As you know, public education has been under fire for a long time now. Funding continues to dwindle, we send more and more of our resources to poorly performing, for-profit charter schools and the entire teaching profession continues to be demeaned,” Kline said in an email.
He added, “While there has been some movement in Columbus around charter school accountability, there are still major issues around funding, evaluation of teachers, the burden of assessments and the destruction of public education as we know it. Enough is enough!”
As the meeting began, Kline presented his goals for the evening, which were to share information about public education in Ohio, collect thoughts from the audience on how best to influence decision makers on education in Ohio and to create a Local School Advocacy Network to respond to and influence decisions about public education in Ohio.
Public schools are mandated to do more each year, typically with less money, according to Kline.
A lot of the decisions that are made around curriculum, assessments, child nutrition and teacher evaluations are made at the state or federal level, and part of the calculation for state money and state funding is based on the wealth of the community, Kline said.
“The state classifies West Clermont as urban wealthy,” Kline said. “Now think about our community. I’m not sure that’s where I would have put us.”
He added, “There are a lot of issues there that just don’t make a lot of sense, and I believe they’re done for a variety of reasons that maybe aren’t necessarily in the best interest of our kids or our community.”
Kline said some positive things about charter schools before presenting on charter school scandals.
“I think charter schools were really initiated for good reasons. They were intended to help in largely urban areas, lift kids up, and give them a different approach to education,” Kline said. “I’m not going to complain about that.”
He added, “That being said, that experiment started 20 years ago, and we’ve still got more failing charter schools than we have successful charter schools.”
Kline listed some differences between public schools and charter schools.
For example, public schools are also held to the highest standards regarding academics and finances, while there is very limited accountability for charter schools, according to Kline.
“Two years ago, we scored a B on overall performance,” Kline said. “There wasn’t a single charter school that we send kids to that scored any better than a C. In fact the majority of them got Ds and Fs.”
He added, “That’s a problem.”
He said that while public schools have to pass levies to increase their revenue streams, charter schools do not, and while public schools are nonprofit, many of the charter schools are for-profit.
“Many times, that money is going to a corporation,” Kline added.
Another distinction is that while WCLSD receives $3,176 per pupil from the state, the charter schools that the district sends kids to receive $6,694 per child. Last year, for 284 students, WCLSD sent $1.9 million to charter schools.
“This is a real big rub for me, quite honestly,” Kline said. “I’m fine with the money following the kid. If the parent decides the kid is going to go somewhere else, fine.
He added, “The difference, $3,518, is locally raised money. West Clermont people voted for West Clermont money. It was never said that money was going to be sent to a private for-profit corporation that’s in it to make money. If I was a tax payer in this community, I’d be hotter than a hornet.”
Kline said the state requires the district to send money from their operating budget to the charter schools.
“It comes out before they even send us our money,” Kline said.
Jim O’Connor, a teacher at Princeton High School in Cincinnati, shared his thoughts on charter schools.
“When you see the term community schools, you think of your local community school,” O’Connor said. “[Charter schools] are trying to get rid of that term charter completely, and it’s another way to confuse the voters of Ohio.”
John McGraw, chairman of Union Township’s Board of Trustees, said he’d like to see the State Board of Education’s budget cut.
“I’d like to see that money come back locally,” McGraw said.
Kline encouraged meeting attendees to become engaged in the issues surrounding public education, including politics.
“Being a student, I didn’t really know any of these things before I came here today,” said Debbi Boggess, a senior and student council president at Glen Este High School. “I’m going to be 18 in January and I’ll be voting, so I think we should reach out to students more and get their support, and their parents’ support.”
Kline praised Boggess for her enthusiasm.
“It takes people like that to get this thing going,” Kline said. “This is about the students.”
The afternoon after the meeting, Kline sent a follow-up email to meeting attendees.
“As I mentioned, we need to put together a network within West Clermont to communicate issues and, hopefully, let your voices be heard in Columbus,” Kline said in an email. “Our kids are that important!”
He asked attendees to subscribe via email to Ohio Equity and Adequacy, a statewide, daily, email that shares information about what is taking place in regards to education in Ohio.
He also asked attendees to share the information discussed with neighbors, friends and colleagues, and to follow him and the WCLSD on social media.