Q: What is a community school?
A: Community schools, first authorized in Ohio in 1997, are public, non-profit schools that operate independently from the traditional public school system. Notwithstanding this independence, community schools must operate under a sponsorship (or oversight) contract with a non-profit entity, which can be a traditional public school district.
Sponsoring entities are responsible for general oversight of the community school. If the sponsoring entity determines that the community school is not abiding by its commitment to educate children or is not otherwise performing under the sponsorship contract, the community school may be placed on probation or suspension. The sponsoring entity may also terminate its contract with the community school altogether if the problems identified are not resolved after a defined period of time.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) reviews and approves all applications received from sponsoring entities. The ODE also oversees all sponsoring entities and may have the power to remove a sponsor or revoke the status originally granted.
Note: Many people in Ohio and in other states refer to community schools as “charter schools.” However, because private schools operate under “charters” in Ohio, lawmakers have determined that the term “community schools” would be used to describe these public, independent schools operating under sponsorship agreements.
Q: Why were community schools started in Ohio?
A: The community school concept was started in Ohio, at least in part, to provide an alternative to traditional public schools and to insert the element of competition among primary and secondary education providers.
Q: Who funds community schools?
A: Community schools receive per-pupil “foundation” payments from the state budget for regular and special education students who are enrolled. These funds are typically redirected from a student’s home school district to the community school where the student is attending. Community schools do not receive county real estate tax revenues like traditional public schools, but they are eligible to receive federal education funding and private grants.
Q: Must community school students pay tuition?
A: No. Community schools may not charge tuition to any student, except in very limited circumstances.
Q: What is the difference between community schools and private schools?
A: Community schools are public entities, whereas private schools are not. Private schools do not receive state funding like community schools do. For these reasons, private schools may charge tuition and/or incorporate religion, but community schools can do neither. Community schools must be nonsectarian (non-religious) in all programs, admission policies, employment practices and other operations.
Q: Can community schools restrict admissions?
A: Yes. Admission is generally open to any individual age five to 22 who is entitled to attend school in any traditional school district in Ohio, but individual schools may impose limits. Admission policies may limit enrollment by overall capacity, age, grade point average or geography. Community schools may choose to accept only “at-risk” students, as the term is defined in the school’s sponsorship agreement. The schools cannot discriminate on the basis of race, disability, creed, color or sex, except that single-gender schools may be established.
Q: Are community school teachers licensed?
A: Yes. Community school teachers must comply with all ODE certification and licensing requirements, although community school teachers are permitted to teach outside of their areas of certification.
Q: How are community school students tested?
A: Community school students must take all state-required tests, including diagnostic assessments, proficiency tests, the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) and the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT).
Q: Is transportation provided to community schools?
A: The public school that serves as a student’s home district must provide transportation to the community school, as long as the student lives more than two miles from the community school and the community school is less than 30 minutes away from the public school that the student would have attended. A public school may provide payments in lieu of transportation if it deems the transportation to be impractical. Public schools are only required to provide transportation for community school students in K-8, unless the public school already provides transportation for its own high school students. In such a case, the public school must provide transportation to high school students attending community schools.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Mark A. Weiker of the Columbus firm Means, Bichimer, Burkholder & Baker Co., LPA.