- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

The Ohio Federation of Teachers will file the nation's first lawsuit challenging charter school funding.

The union's lawsuit, which is expected to be filed in state court within two weeks, charges that Ohio's charter school program illegally diverts funds from regular public schools, in violation of the state's constitution.

"Ohio's citizens have seen their tax dollars drained from regular public schools to support charter schools that have no accountability and over which their elected representatives exercise no control," said Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) President Tom Mooney, who announced the lawsuit at a news conference yesterday in Columbus.

"The current system violates the state constitution's guarantee of a thorough and efficient system of common schools, which are controlled by locally elected school boards," said Mr. Mooney, who is also one of 38 vice presidents who serve on the executive board of the million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), headquartered in Washington.

Ohio's charter school program began in 1998 and there are 68 charter schools open statewide. Thirty-eight more are planned.

In its lawsuit, the teachers' union, an AFT affiliate with about 20,000 members, will claim that Ohio's charter school program violates that state's constitution by taking tax dollars approved by voters for local public schools and diverting them to charter schools that union officials say have no accountability to local voters or school boards.

"They have become a separate school system with different and lower standards," said Mr. Mooney, 46, who is also a former social studies teacher in Cincinnati.

The OFT cited charter schools that have been approved to open in Dayton, where they claim regular public schools would lose $34 million in funding for the next school year.

The loss of money could force school closures, personnel layoffs and a reduction in services offered at city public schools, the union said. The city of Columbus, the OFT said in a statement, would lose more than $8 million, and Cincinnati would be out close to $21 million in state and local money for the school year that begins this fall.

The union lawsuit also will claim that the Ohio charter program violates a state law that says that all charter schools must operate as nonprofit corporations. They cite as evidence a private Akron firm called White Hat Management Inc., which operates several state charter schools.

"Charter schools were supposed to be small, autonomous public schools with a unique or innovative instructional program," Mr. Mooney said.

"Instead, they have become a vehicle for privatizing education for the sake of privatizing, at least in this state," he said. "The only thing public about many of these charter schools is the tax money. The system here is a complete perversion of the concept of charter schools."

The OFT released results yesterday of its own study of the state's charter schools program.

According to its research, Ohio charter schools "hold and dump students," keeping certain students on enrollment rolls to get state funds, then returning them to public schools before they are to take proficiency tests.

"Despite the hold-and-dump tactic, charter students do not perform as well as regular public school students on proficiency tests," the OFT study said.

Christian Braunlich, vice president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington, which promotes school-choice options including charter schools, said very little was new about the union's efforts to stop the charter movement.

"I think it's basically a new twist on an old-fashioned effort to kill charter schools through a death of a thousand cuts without ever saying you are against them," said Mr. Braunlich, who compared the lawsuit with a similar strategy used unsuccessfully against Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's A-Plus plan, which included the use of vouchers.

State constitutional challenges to charter schools are not new, Mr. Braunlich said. He said he thinks the OFT report is biased and not credible.

"I can't conceive of [the lawsuit] getting very far," he said.

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