Charter Schools Are Shedding Students

A Closer Look at APS Economic Forecast
Posted on 05/31/2018
Image of Akron Public Schools Logo(as reported by Theresa Cottom, Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

Akron Public Schools will look at a balanced budget for 2019 thanks to building consolidations, improved health insurance costs and increasing enrollment.

But the positive forecast is also due, in part, to one large factor outside the district’s control: declining enrollment in charter schools.

District Treasurer Ryan Pendle­ton shared these findings as part of his five-year forecast presented Tuesday during the board of education meeting.

Of the nearly 27,000 school-age kids in Akron, charter school enrollment has dropped almost 800 students since 2015.

Almost 21,000 Akron kids attend the district’s schools. About 3,000 school-age children in the city are enrolled in charter schools, while the rest are distributed among other school choices.

Although the Akron Public Schools district isn’t receiving every student leaving area charter schools, the trend has amounted to almost $5.3 million for the district since 2015, Pendleton said. The additional funding is the equivalent of almost 80 teacher salaries.

“I would say it’s the second biggest factor behind health insurance” for the positive five-year outlook, said Pendleton, who also received a state auditor’s award during the meeting Tuesday for a clean financial audit this year.

The exact number of students who have transferred to Akron Public Schools from charter schools was unavailable Wednesday, but it coincides with a slow trickle of students who have increasingly entered the district since 2016.

That year, enrollment began to increase for the first time in almost two decades, district spokesperson Mark Williamson said. From 2016 to 2017, the district gained 72 students. From 2017 to this year, enrollment increased again by a mere two students.

That might seem like a small feat, Williamson said, but since the establishment of charter schools in Ohio in the late 1990s, declining enrollment before 2016 was “precipitous.”

“We were losing several hundred a year regularly,” Williamson said.

The closure of the Electronic School of Tomorrow (ECOT) in January is a small piece of the increased enrollment for the Akron district. Once ECOT began showing signs of trouble, district officials worked feverishly to contact displaced families and brought at least 45 students back to the district, Williamson said.

Meanwhile, declining enrollment is affecting charter schools in the area as well as across the state.

Summit Academy, a system of charter schools based in the Akron area, recently cut teacher positions and has plans to increase its class sizes because of declining enrollment. Summit Academy CEO John Guyer said across its 24 schools, 158 students have left this year alone.

It’s a trend that’s unique to Ohio, said Todd Ziebarth, the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Across the country, the number of charter schools and students enrolling in them has been on a steady incline.

But Ohio is an “outlier,” Ziebarth said, in that the number of charter schools in the state began to decrease in 2014 and, in turn, the number of students enrolled began to decrease in 2015.

Ziebarth said the decline in Ohio is because of a number of factors, but a combination of stricter legislation and higher accountability accounts for a bulk of it.

“I think a big reason is the strengthening of the accountability systems for both schools and the authorizers [in Ohio], which began a number of years ago … and just a general effort to take more seriously closing those low-performing charter schools,” Ziebarth said.
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