School Closing Alert

School closings Lake County Ohio

The Ohio Department of Education reports that 11 charter schools lost the support this year of their sponsors, the organizations that authorize the schools and oversee them. That puts them in danger of closing this summer if they cannot find a new sponsor.

Though the schools have been searching since mid-January, none of them has had any luck.

Schools could still find a backer by June 30, but that's unlikely at this point and the schools will probably close.

Six of those schools even asked the Ohio Department of Education this spring to back them, but the state said no to all six.

Among them were the Cleveland-based Virtual Schoolhouse and OAK Leadership Institute. OAK leaders made a desperate pitch to the state school board this week to stay open.

Here's why they are out of luck: The House Bill 2 charter reform law blocks schools dropped by a sponsor because of poor academic performance from signing on with another. That part of the bill is aimed directly at stopping "sponsor hopping" - schools bouncing from overseer to overseer as soon as one starts holding them to standards.

This is also the first year that the Department of Education can reject applications from schools with poor academic records. In the past, the department had to sponsor any school that applied, without making any judgment about the ability of a school to educate children.

State school board President Tom Gunlock said this week that he agrees that the law appears to be working. Though he supports charter schools, Gunlock said the law requires them to perform or else they lose the ability to stay open.

"That's what happened, " he said, specifically referring to the OAK case. "House Bill 2 was a really good thing."

Steve Dyer, a former state legislator and regular charter school critic, also said that what happened with OAK - losing backing because of its poor state report cards and then not finding a new backer - to be what House Bill 2 aimed at.

"I don't think you could have had a better example of what House Bill 2 was supposed to do, " Dyer told the board.

In addition to the 11 that lost sponsor support, another eight schools agreed to close voluntarily. It is unclear how many were in danger of losing their sponsor and just closed pre-emptively.

Look below for a list of all the schools expected to close.

The number of schools closing is not any increase over previous years. The 19 is fewer than the 30 closing in 2015 and the 27 closing in 2014. The lack of second chances for struggling schools is what separates this year from others.

In 2013, for example, the Ohio Department of Education accepted one of the two applications for existing schools to switch to the department and five out of eight requests in 2014. This year, it accepted none.

Angela Thi Bennett, superintendent of the OAK charter school in the Hough neighborhood, said she had hoped to find another sponsor when the school's longtime sponsor, the Richland Academy of the Arts, dropped the school in January.

"The climate of sponsorship now is making it a challenge, " Bennett told the board.

That's because the state is starting to evaluate and rate charter sponsors for the first time and subject them to penalties, including shutting them down, if they rate poorly. With the academic performance of schools making up a third of those ratings, schools with poor test scores are on the chopping block.

"It's really important that schools get really busy about improving their scores, or we're going to see more of this happen, " Lehner said.

Richland dropped seven of the 10 schools it oversees this year, all for poor academic performance, though Executive Director Marianne Cooper said sponsor evaluations were not the reason.

"While certainly that is an impetus, all of the schools were at the end of their contract, " Cooper said. "With declining scores, it was the right thing to do."

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