State continues to blindly shift funding to charter schools

State continues to blindly shift funding to charter schools

In attempting to hold public school districts accountable for their success or failure in educating students, the Ohio General Assembly has created a budgetary monster that is consuming hundreds of millions of dollars with virtually no accountability.

In last Sunday’s Vindicator, a story on for-profit charter schools operated by White Hat Management of Akron not only made the point that these schools are not performing as well as their public counterparts, but they are doing it behind a cloak of fiscal secrecy.

Only 2 percent of the students attending White Hat schools show a level of academic progress that is expected under federal education law. Yet, once White Hat gets its hands on Ohio taxpayers’ money — which will be about $74 million this year, almost a tenth of the total Ohio will spend on charter schools — it is as if the money has fallen into a pit. It is out of sight.

Who makes what?

The salaries of public school teachers and administrators are readily available, most notably on the website of the Buckeye Institute, which lists every Ohio public school employee by name and salary. But good luck finding a data base that provides the same insight into charter operations. And Ohio taxpayers can only dream of knowing how much of their $74 million that White Hat collects will end up as profit for owner David Brenner, a longtime proponent of charter schools and a financial supporter of politicians who share his view.

Atty. Charles R. Saxbe, who represents White Hat in a lawsuit brought by some of its charter school boards, said public funds become private once they enter White Hat’s accounts.

Charter schools were first sold to Ohio voters as an experiment. The results of that experiment are not in, but the General Assembly continues to increase funding for charter schools. What was a $51 million experiment in 2000 has ballooned to a $715 million experiment in 2011. While charter schools get an ever big bite out of the education pie in Ohio, funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, has flat-lined.

Despite the record, Gov. John Kasich vows to increase state support for charter schools and school vouchers, which will inevitably shift the pressure for funding local public schools onto local property taxpayers.

This blind rush down the charter road is a tragedy and a scandal in the making.

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