Ohio proposes new rules for online education

Online charter schools in Ohio would have to create a separate committee to guide their policies and procedures, under one of dozens of new rules recommended by the state school board. Cyber schools and schools offering online classes in Ohio also would have to develop policies explaining students’ rights when installation of equipment is delayed and come up with a plan to attract qualified teachers.

Lawmakers required the state school board to recommend the guidelines in September. It’s now up to lawmakers to decide which recommendations to follow.

Some advocates of online charter schools say the rules are too intrusive. But the state says the recommendations make sure such schools are held accountable.

“I don’t see it as adding a layer of bureaucracy,” said Steve Burigana, executive director of the state education department’s Office of Community Schools. “It provides guidance in an area where there was virtually none.”

At least 16 online charter schools are open in Ohio, enrolling 22 percent of the state’s 38,248 charter school students and receiving about $50.6 million in state funds. The state expects to pay about $255 million to charter schools this year, about 2 percent of the total education budget.

Like regular charter schools, online charter schools are privately run but publicly funded. Lawmakers started charter schools in the state in 1997 to provide competition for traditional public schools.

Supporters say they give students in struggling public schools an alternative. Opponents say they drain money from needy districts and aren’t delivering on their academic promises.

The Ohio Charter School Association (OCSA) said it understands the need for accountability. But it questioned a number of the recommendations, such as requiring the schools to figure out ways to attract good teachers. It also questioned why the schools need a separate advisory board from the regular school board.

“How are the schools supposed to be innovative or different when they have to do all these things?” said Clint Satow, OCSA policy research vice president. “There comes a point in time when you spend so much time complying with rules you don’t have time to do anything else.”

Steve Clippinger of the Lancaster Digital Academy in Fairfield County, Ohio, said he believes the recommendations are overdue. The guidelines “are things we ought to be doing,” said Clippinger, president of the academy’s board of directors.

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