The Ohio legislature has passed legislation that attempts to clean up the state’s scandal-ridden $1 billion charter school sector. Meanwhile, both Republican and Democratic politicians in the state are expressing concern about a $71 million grant that the federal government just gave to the Ohio Department of Education to build and expand charter schools.
The legislation, expected to be signed by Gov. John Kasich, who is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, includes a series of governance and financial controls on how charter operators run the schools. that would allow better oversight
A June 2015 story in the Akron Beacon Journal said that an investigation it had completed found that Ohio charter schools appeared to have misspent public money “nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.” It said 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” — and the misspending could be much higher.
There had been repeated attempts to get the legislature to pass reforms that would provide better oversight and sensible financial and other controls on charter school operations, but until now, they had all failed.
One of the reforms included in the legislation is meant to deal with a situation created last month, when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit by 10 now-closed charter schools that the for-profit company that once operated them, White Hat Management, owns all of the equipment it purchased for the schools with public funds. Under the legislation, the schools would from here on out own the equipment.
Another reform, the Columbus Dispatch reported, changes the way state evaluations of charter school operators are done in an effort to speak to a situation that developed this past summer. In July, David Hansen, the Ohio Education Department official responsible for school choice and charter schools, resigned after it was learned that he given help to some charter schools by making student achievement look better in state evaluations than was actually earned.
Meanwhile, both Republicans and Democrats are expressing concern about a big grant the U.S. Education Department just gave to Ohio. The grant — $32.5 million for this year with a recommended multi-year total of $71 million — was the largest handed out last week to education departments and charter school operators.
According to the Associated Press, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) has asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan “to restrict release of Ohio’s money and has requested copies of all grant application documentation.” And Ted Strickland, a former Democratic governor of Ohio who is now running for the U.S. Senate, wrote a letter to Duncan opposing the grant, according to the Plain Dealer. It said in part:
Why is the Department rewarding this unacceptable behavior? Not only are these poor performing charter schools undeserving of millions of additional funds, this grant to charters comes at a time when many of Ohio’s traditional public schools are facing significant cuts and are being asked to do more with less. Surely this money could be better invested in public schools that have a proven track record of better serving Ohio students….
It ‘s not only me, or the Democrats in Ohio, or the editorial boards that are concerned about what is happening with charters. This charter situation in Ohio is so bad that even the Republican Auditor of State, [David Yost] a supporter of charter schools himself, said he was shocked to learn of your award. This is because in a recent audit he concluded that Ohio has a, “broken” system of charter schools.
The AP reported that a Duncan spokesperson said Ohio’s grants came with special conditions. The department hasn’t fully addressed why Ohio got the grant at all given its charter sector history.