Number of new Ohio charters drops this school year

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The relatively low number of new Ohio charter schools that opened this academic year is a sign of increased caution after a high number of closures and an increase in state scrutiny of school sponsors.

Only 11 new schools opened statewide, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1HkmhgP ) reported. Typically there are dozens, and last year more than 50 charters opened.

Such schools, which are considered public and get state money, often have private operators.

Sometimes they don't last long. Twenty-eight closed last school year — the highest annual total since 2000. Seventeen in Columbus didn't even make it halfway through the year.

The closures prompted the state auditor to examine three sponsors in an investigation that is ongoing. A spokeswoman for Auditor Dave Yost says he's looking at how sponsors vet potential new schools, how some funding is spent, and the relationship between sponsors, schools and management companies.

Ohio's Department of Education sent a memo telling sponsors to ensure future facilities have solid plans and a strong financial foundation before opening.

"I do know there was one warning from the department saying, 'Look, take into consideration the business plans and take a tough look at who you're authorizing.' That's a positive, encouraging sign," said Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which is a charter sponsor and vocal critic on oversight and quality issues.

The Department of Education also is taking a closer look at sponsors through a new evaluation system that starts this month, with the possibility that poor performers lose the opportunity to sponsor schools.

"There are a lot of legislators out there, and Gov. (John) Kasich, saying we need to toughen regulations," Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said. "And that's something to consider, and we'll be involved in this conversation. The bottom line is we want a quality education for all kids."

All 11 charters that opened this school year are still operating.

"I think they had the appropriate assurances when they opened," Charlton said.