Just when it appeared that Democrats in Ohio were heading into the statewide election in November without a defining issue, along comes “The Turkish Connection” to Ohio’s charter schools to put Republicans on the hot seat.
How hot is that seat?
Last week, Republican State Auditor David Yost bristled at the suggestion by this writer that he would be pressured by his party into keeping the results of a special audit on charter schools under wraps until after the Nov. 4 general election.
Yost correctly pointed out that he took on Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly over the secrecy that shrouds JobsOhio, the state’s quasi-public economic development entity. The state auditor, a former county prosecutor and journalist, has not shied away from politically sensitive issues and is going after the charter school industry — launched two decades ago by Republicans in Columbus — with a vengeance.
The recent in-depth stories in the Akron Beacon Journal about a chain of 19 publicly funded Ohio charter schools, founded by Turkish immigrants, have given Yost even more reason to look into the expenditure of public dollars and the accountability of data submitted by the charters.
The “Turkish Connection” to the extremely lucrative charter industry has not only triggered extensive press coverage, but “sweeping allegations of test cheating, attendance tampering, improper sexual conduct and other misdeed,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The allegations from four former teachers from the Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School in Dayton have prompted the State Board of Education to launch an immediate investigation.
The Dayton school is one of the 19 Horizon Science academies — there’s one in Youngstown — that are publicly funded and privately operated, like all charter schools.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been redirected from public schools to charters over the two decades, but there has been little accountability or state oversight of the expenditures.
State Republican officeholders have been unwavering in their support of charters, which is why the latest news stories and investigations by the state auditor and the state board of education spell trouble for Republican Gov. John Kasich and other Republicans seeking re-election or election this year.
It could well be a defining issue like the state employees collective bargaining reform law that was soundly rejected in 2011 by Ohioans in a referendum vote.
The Republicans are still licking their wounds from that election, and this year were bracing for another union-Democratic Party political juggernaut.
There had been talk of a right-to-work constitutional amendment appearing on the November ballot, but Gov. Kasich and others made it clear that it was dead on arrival.
Thus, Democrats have been struggling to find another collective bargaining-type issue to ignite the passions of the party faithful.
They certainly seemed to have found it in the charter schools, but more specifically in the ones founded by Turkish immigrants.
It isn’t that individuals coming from a Muslim country should be prohibited from opening charters — after all, Christian schools abound — but it’s what the Beacon Journal found in its investigation that will resonate with the electorate.
Contending that the United States lacks a qualified pool of math and science teachers, the Turkish owners of the schools have been importing “perhaps hundreds of Turks to fill the void,” according to the newspaper.
But it doesn’t stop there. 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.
If the Ohio Democratic Party cannot take this information and all the other alleged illegal activities and turn them into a political campaign, it does not deserve big-league political status.
This issue is heaven-sent.