By Marc Kovac
Democratic lawmakers announced legislation Tuesday that would require increased scrutiny and access to certain records of charter schools that receive public funding.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, of Boardman, D-33rd, and Rep. John Carney, D-Columbus, want to require annual reviews by the state auditor of charter school sponsors and operators to see how they used public funds.
“The growing problem is we don’t know how most of these taxpayer dollars are being spent,” Schiavoni said.
The move comes after an investigation by the Akron Beacon Journal and Younstown State University's NewsOutlet that resulted in a three-day series published by The Vindicator and other newspapers across the state which demonstrated the secrecy surrounding charter schools.
Comparable provisions to keep closer tabs on charter schools have been offered by Statehouse Democrats in the past, but the law changes have not gained needed support in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
A spokeswoman for Republican state Auditor Dave Yost declined to comment, saying she was not familiar with the Democratic lawmakers’ latest proposal. Carrie Bartunek also said neither lawmaker discussed the legislation with the auditor’s office.
“Auditor Yost does support increased accountability and transparency for all schools,” she said in an email message. “However, it is difficult to take a position on a bill that he hasn’t even seen yet.”
State Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, also said he had not yet reviewed Schiavoni’s new legislation.
“We’ve done a lot to increase charter-school accountability,” he said. “While I haven’t seen Sen. Schiavoni’s bill, my understanding is it targets fiscal accountability, not academic accountability, and so to [that extent] I need to see what it does.”
According to Schiavoni, there are nearly 400 charter schools in the state, receiving state funding of more than $900 million. That’s up from 15 charter schools in 1998-99 that received $11 million in state funding.