CINCINNATI (AP) — A judge's order for the Ohio Department of Education to pay $300,000 to keep a Cincinnati charter school open has been put on hold in an appeals court ruling announced Monday, a move that threatens to send 600 low-income, at-risk youth and their caretakers scrambling for the upcoming school year.
Ohio's First District Court of Appeals issued a stay of last week's ordering the education department to sponsor the school and give it $300,000 within three days to begin the school year. The court did not offer an explanation.
Without that money, Hamilton County Judge Nadine Allen had ruled that the school would face being forced to close and the students "will be severely impacted, harmed and damaged."
The department argues that the school is underperforming, financially insolvent and has a troubling history of nepotism.
"In Ohio, we want every child to attend a quality school and receive a quality education," Richard Ross, Ohio's superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement Monday. "When a school is not performing up to standards, then action must be taken."
Ross said the department has "an obligation to taxpayers to be good stewards of their tax dollars."
"It would not have been a good idea to provide state funding to this failing community school," he said.
Allen contradicted the department's arguments in her ruling last Monday, saying that the agency has discouraged at least two willing, outside sponsors from paying for VLT Academy to stay open and questioned the school's "D'' rating, citing 93 percent attendance and students' improved test scores over the years.
She said investigations into financial mishandling and nepotism against the school haven't been finished or proven to be detrimental and that the school has shown it can return to solvency.
Allen spent a good deal of her ruling talking about the children who are at stake if the school closes and questioning where they would go.
She said the majority come from troubled, dysfunctional backgrounds that include abuse, hunger, homelessness, and imprisoned parents, and that many of the children entered VLT Academy with low to illiterate-level reading levels but improved over time.
Allen criticized the department for holding VLT Academy and its troubled students to the same standard as schools in more affluent, higher-income neighborhoods with few at-risk youth.
She also pointed out that VLT Academy, chartered in 2005, only began experiencing a fiscal crisis in 2012 after some affordable housing was eliminated in Cincinnati's downtown and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods because of gentrification, causing 300 students to move away and withdraw from the school.
VLT Academy's superintendent and founder, Valerie Lee, did not respond to a message seeking comment Monday.