Problems continue to mount for charter schools in Ohio

The headline in Sunday’s Akron Beacon Journal, “Ohio taxpayers provide jobs to Turkish immigrants through charter schools,” undoubtedly triggered a we-told-you-so reaction from Ohioans who have long complained about the lack of accountability, the absence of stringent regulations and unimpressive academic results of this singular Republican initiative.

After two decades, during which hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been redirected from public schools to charters, the report card is filled with Fs.

We have warned on many occasions that the charter school movement’s ideological underpinnings would come back to haunt it. The push by conservative groups in Ohio to enable religious organizations — read that Christian — to establish charters was greeted with enthusiasm by those who stood to benefit.

But as we noted in several editorials in this space, there is no way for the state of Ohio to prevent non-Christian organizations from seeking to establish charters.

And as Sunday’s Beacon Journal revealed, it isn’t just about establishing an alternative to public schools.

According to the story, written by Reporter Doug Livingston, a chain of 19 publicly funded Ohio charter schools, founded by Turkish immigrants, is contending that the United States lacks a qualified pool of math and science teachers and is, thus, importing “perhaps hundreds of Turks to fill the void.”

But the situation in Ohio goes beyond short-circuiting the immigration process.

As early as 2002, state audits found thousands of public dollars “illegally expended” to finance the U.S. citizenship process for Turkish employees. Some of them are fresh out of college with no classroom experience and broken English.

Help with legal and immigration fees also extended to their children and families, including the spouses of the directors.

The state auditor also cited suspect wire transfers, totaling $36,000, and checks made out to “cash” to repay personal loans issued by individuals in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Horizon and Noble academies — there is one such school on Southern Boulevard in Youngstown — are run by the Chicago-based Concept Schools. They are related through membership, fundraisers and political giving to the nonprofit Niagara Foundation, which provides trips for state, local and federal lawmakers.

Multi-state investigation

The FBI has launched a multi-state investigation as part of a white-collar probe. Three of the Ohio schools have been visited by federal agents. Last year, Ohio’s Turkish-run schools enrolled more than 6,700 students.

The bottom line is that the charter school movement in Ohio has operated with the blessing of Republicans in control of state government and, therefore, has adopted an anything-goes attitude.

An in-depth investigation by the NewOutlet, staffed by a team of Northeast Ohio student journalists based out of Youngstown State University, in professional partnership with The Vindicator and the Beacon Journal, found that charter schools in Ohio have failed to provide students with a credible alternative to public schools. Ohio taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

The FBI investigation of the Turkish schools should be expanded to include other major operators of charters in Ohio. Given the stranglehold Republicans have on state government, a full-blown state investigation is unlikely.

However, the FBI has the wherewithal to delve deeply into what charter school operators have done to maintain the support of decision-makers in Columbus.

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