Should Ohio restrict or expand the number of charter schools? On Thursday, Charles E. Wilson, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and James Callender, a former State Representative and partner at the law firm Buckley King, set out to answer that question at a Moritz College of Law debate.
The event began with an overview of the history of charter schools and charter law in Ohio by Callender. Callender traced the development of charter schools by detailing the origins of the law and its transformation over the years.
Wilson sparked debate by offering nine reasons why he opposes the expansion of charter schools. After citing issues like the diverting of funds from district-run public schools, the national and state-wide low rate of success, and the scandals that have plagued Ohio charters, Wilson concluded Ohio should restrict the number of charter schools in the state rather than increase it.
Callender countered Wilson’s arguments by questioning the premise that public schools are entitled to the entirety of Ohio education funding. Regarding the low rate of success among charter schools, he noted the lack of success of district-run public schools. In response to the assertion that charter schools are saturated by scandals, Callender admitted, “There’s been some successes and some spectacular failures.” Callender blamed those failures, however, on the failing charter schools’ sponsors and identified the Ohio Department of Education as the common sponsor in those cases.
After the initial debate, several audience members brought up well-publicized charter school scandals as well as personal struggles within the system. Wilson used these examples to bolster his claims while Callender saw them as exceptions instead of the rule. Callender promised to close down those schools.
Other audience members were surprised at the incivility displayed by Callender. "I thought his conduct was very offensive and unbecoming for a lawyer," stated Moritz College of Law Visiting Professor Edwin Hood. "I certainly did not expect to see so many ad hominem attacks at a law school debate. His rhetoric was the type of rhetoric that basically prevents full and adequate discussion of the issues."
Moritz College of Law student Ann Yackshaw added, “The basic split between Wilson and Callender centered on how they characterized the funding of charter schools. Two very different interpretations of the same facts. If you think the money is being ‘taken’ from public schools, of course, you'll be less charitable to charters, but if you think the money is held in common, then that problem subsides. I felt like because they couldn't agree on this fundamental point, they spent a lot of time talking past each other.”
Wilson and Callender also disagreed about the fundamental principles that underlie public education reform and funding. Callender promoted the ideas of competition and the free market in order to give parents a choice in education. Wilson countered this position by stating, “I don’t believe competition is appropriate in public education. With competition, you have winners and losers. I don’t think any kid should be a loser in the public education system.”
Moritz Education Law Society member Skylar de Jong remarked, “I thought the debate was eye-opening as to the need for alternative solutions to traditional schools, but also to some of the faults that come with charter schools. Neither party had a full-proof solution. It became apparent there is likely no silver bullet that can take care of all the public education problems.”