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Foxes closing in on Ohio's charter school henhouse



Published: Sun, November 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The state of Ohio is bleeding red ink from nearly every artery, but the State Board of Education is only now getting around to stopping the hemorrhage of state dollars into the waiting basins of marginal charter school operations. And the latest response only came about because state Auditor Jim Petro discovered that the eCOT school -- a school in name only -- was collecting millions of taxpayer dollars to allegedly educate 2,000 students, when only a handful had registered.

But the legislature must share some of the blame. Passing laws to facilitate the creation of schools that have ripped off public school dollars while providing no improvement in the education of the children they have pulled out of conventional schools is nothing short of scandalous.

But don't expect any real improvement for a while. One piece of legislation, H.B. 364, written by Ron Husted, R-Kettering would place control over community schools -- Ohio's name for charter schools -- in the hands of a new state board for community schools.

As the legislation is currently written, "Members appointed by the governor shall be selected from among persons with an interest in and commitment to education reform with particular interest in fostering the development of community schools." Given the marginal performance of many -- if not most of Ohio's charter schools -- it would seem that a board already predisposed to favor the creation of more questionable schools is akin to hiring a company of foxes to monitor the henhouse.

White Hat again: We are especially concerned because 17 of the bill's 25 co-sponsors in addition to Husted have each received from $1,000 to $5,000 in campaign contributions from David Brennan, whose White Hat Management Company is making a fortune off charter schools in the state. Several more did not received direct contributions from Brennan but received funds or in-kind contributions from state Republican committees to which Brennan has contributed tens of thousands of dollars.

Given eCOT's example of the most lucrative way to hop aboard the charter school gravy train, Brennan and White Hat have just received approval to start up their own electronic "school." It will start enrolling students in December and expects to have 1,000 students in front of at-home computers by the end of the year. The company would be paid nearly $5 million for such services.

Husted tells critics of charter schools that it is premature at this point to know how well charter schools are working and he suggests that bad charter schools will weed themselves out and fail.

We think the state's uncertainty should bring a halt to the chartering of any more schools until the existing ones prove they're educating children -- especially those e-schools that give students no more than a computer and a link to the Internet.




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