Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to officially announce this month that he is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Don’t expect to hear him tout his state’s charter schools.
Ohio lawmakers looked like they were actually going to do something about the state’s ridiculed $1 billion charter school system, the No. 1 sector in Ohio for misspending tax dollars. A two-year effort to write legislation that would strengthen oversight of these schools passed in the state Senate in June, and was believed to have majority support in the state House. But, alas, the bill never made it to a final vote.
What happened? The bill — which, again, had the votes to pass — was tabled because, apparently, some lawmakers still want to make changes. The bill is supposed to come up again in September, but who really knows, given tepid efforts in the past to improve schools. Even if a bill passes later, implementation will be significantly delayed.
You’d think that the lousy state of Ohio’s charter system would have set a fire under everyone with even half a fingerprint on it. How bad is it? A June story in the Akron Beacon Journal started this way:
No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.
The newspaper had reviewed 4,263 audits released last year by the state and concluded that charter schools in the state appear to have misspent public money “nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.” It says that “since 2001, state auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.”
To understand why there is skepticism about Ohio’s effort to provide better oversight to charters, one only has to look at what it has already been trying to do. Kasich and lawmakers came up with a plan a few years ago to pressure the organizations that grant permission for groups to open charters to do a better oversight job. Those groups, called “agencies” in Ohio, include schools districts, colleges, and nonprofit organizations. The state began ranking the agencies based on the performance of the schools they had chartered, with the idea of preventing the worst of them from sponsoring new charters, and an updated ranking system went into effective on Jan. 1, 2014. But, alas, the Plain Dealer recently discovered some problems with the rankings. This June story in the Plain Dealer says:
The Plain Dealer has learned that this plan of making charters better by rating their oversight agencies, known as sponsors or authorizers, is pulling its punches and letting sponsors off the hook for years of not holding some schools to high standards.
The state this year has slammed two sponsors/authorizers with “ineffective” ratings so far. But it has given three others the top rating of “exemplary” by overlooking significant drawbacks for two of them and mixed results for the third.
The state’s not penalizing sponsors, we found, for poor graduation rates at dropout recovery schools, portfolios of charter schools that have more bad grades than good ones and, most surprising, failing grades for online schools.
So much for being tough on charter authorizers.
And there is more bad news for public schools in Ohio. Steve Dyer, a lawyer who is the education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio and was once an Ohio state representative, writes on his blog that Kasich on Tuesday night decided to cut $78 million from school districts. While the state has increased funding for schools since 2011, overall spending (adjusted for inflation) is still below what it was five years ago.