CHARTER SCHOOLS, known in Ohio as "community schools," appeared in Cleveland as elsewhere in the United States beginning in the 1990s. Charter schools represent one version of the reform called "school choice," which seeks to improve education by providing students more options. While intra- and interdistrict choice plans in some states have allowed students to voluntarily choose alternate schools within the traditional public education system, Cleveland has been among a few cities to experiment in the 1990s with programs which provide money, or "vouchers," to families to send their children to independent, non-public schools. Charter schools represent something of a compromise between these two poles, as hybrid public-private institutions. These schools receive formal government incorporation, or "charters," along with state funding, yet retain a greater degree of autonomy than conventional public schools. Ohios 1997 charter school legislation allowed the creation of new, start-up schools in the eight largest city districts, as well as conversion of existing public schools into charter schools anywhere in the state. A 1999 law provided broader opportunities by permitting start-ups in the twenty-one largest urban districts, and by 2000 any district designated by the state as an academic emergency could create a start-up community school. During the 2000-01 academic year, there were seventy-one charter schools throughout Ohio.
A large percentage of the charter schools in operation in Cleveland have been affiliated with Whitehat Management, an education corporation owned by Akron industrialist David Brennan, who also played a key role in initiating the Ohio voucher legislation which resulted in the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. These new start-ups included the various Hope Academies, with campuses listed as Broadway, Cathedral, Chapelside, Cuyahoga, and Lincoln Park, emphasizing the physical and emotional as well as intellectual development of children and Outcome-Based Education techniques. Another Whitehat start-up was the Life Skills Center of Cleveland, designed to help "at-risk" students achieve academic and workplace goals.
The mixed public-private character of charter schools has fostered some culturally awkward arrangements. Citizens Academy has a partnership affliliation with The TEMPLE-TIFERETH ISRAEL and is located at their facility in UNIVERSITY CIRCLE yet operates without a religious mission or instructional program. The Imani Institute Leadership School, with its name, "Imani," a word meaning "faith" also used for the last day of Kwanzaa, is designed to serve the needs of at-risk African-American students but had to include in its charter proposal a statement of "intent to achieve racial and ethnic balance reflective of the Cleveland Municipal School District."
The Ohio Department of Education listed in April 2002 a total of sixteen charter schools in operation in the Cleveland City School District. There were also three community schools in the Cleveland suburb of PARMA at this time.
Gregory B. Bodwell