(By Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

Put this in the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff category.

When the U.S. Department of Education last month handed out $157 million in charter school grants, many in the education world couldn’t understand the largest award on the list. It went to the Ohio Department of Education — $32.6 million for the first year, with a recommended multi-year total of $71 million. Why, the question was asked, did the Obama administration give so much money for charter schools in Ohio when the state’s $1 billion charter sector is as scandal-ridden as any in the country?

Now we know.

[Feds didn’t carefully monitor $3 billion it gave for charters — and just awarded $157 more]

Federal education officials just sent a letter (see below) to Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross saying that, in fact, it didn’t quite understand the depth of Ohio’s charter problems, and now is putting new restrictions on the grant money, as my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote in this story.

The letter says in part:

[I]n making the original grant award, the Department conducted an expedited review of information available at that time and made a preliminary determination that these concerns and issues should not disqualify ODE from the FY 2015 CSP SEA competition. The Department took such concerns into consideration when awarding ODE’s grant, however, and placed special conditions on the grant, pending receipt of more information regarding these matters. Since awarding the grant to ODE, the Department has received additional information that raises continuing concerns regarding ODE’s ability to administer its CSP SEA grant properly, particularly in the areas of oversight and accountability with respect to Ohio’s charter schools.

An expedited review of information available at that time? Who didn’t know that Ohio’s charter schools had become a national joke — literally. The Plain Dealer ran a story this year that started like this:

Ohio, the charter school world is making fun of you.

Ohio’s $1 billion charter school system was the butt of jokes at a conference for reporters on school choice in Denver late last week, as well as the target of sharp criticism of charter school failures across the state.

Wouldn’t you expect someone in the federal government considering giving millions of dollars to Ohio for charter schools to have read the June 2015 coverage in the Akron Beacon Journal which said:

No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.

Repeated efforts to clean up the financial and academic fraud in the Ohio charter sector failed until last month when the state Legislature finally took some action in an attempt to clean up the charter sector by placing more mandates on charter school operators to make them more transparent. But the measure does not address funding issues.

When the Ohio charter award was announced last month, Republicans and Democrats alike shouted their concerns. Education Department officials defended the award. But Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan to restrict release of the grant and review grant application documentation. Why? Because the man responsible for writing the application for the federal grant was David Hansen, a senior official at the Ohio Education Department who resigned last July after it was discovered he manipulated performance statistics to favor some charters.

The new letter to Ross, signed by Stefan Huh, director of Charter School Programs at the U.S. Education Department, says
“additional information” just became available to the department. New information? Maybe it was new to federal education officials in charge of the grant, but not to anybody else.

In any case, none of the new grant money will be released to Ohio until it answers some new questions about its application.

Here’s the letter:


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