Feds must rethink funding for Ohio’s charter schools

The latest revelations about Ohio’s controversy-ridden charter-school industry come as no surprise.

What is surprising, however, is the federal government’s continued support for a system that has become a national embarrassment.

Last week, Innovation Ohio, a progressive policy think tank, and the Ohio Education Association, a union representing teachers, issued a report that had this shocking conclusion: About $30 million from Washington was spent on 92 charter schools that either closed or failed to even open.

The money was funneled through the Ohio Department of Education, which handled applications from charter schools on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, which has reported extensively on the problem-plagued state charter system, quoted the author of the “Know Your Charter” report as saying:

“The point of the [federal] program was to grow high performing charters. That didn’t happen, at least not in Ohio.”

Stephen Dyer, a former state representative, is a critic of charter schools. He contended that the state must do a better job of selecting schools for the $71 million the federal government has earmarked in grants for Ohio.

But as we argued in an editorial last December, the administration of President Barack Obama has a responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure that the money will not be squandered in this failed experiment of an alternative to public education in Ohio.

Here’s what we said in the editorial:

“But before the Obama administration releases the $71 million, the largest single award, officials should answer this overarching question: Why aren’t the publicly funded but privately operated charters governed by the same statutory rules, regulations and oversight that apply to public schools?”

While the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. John Kasich finally took steps late last year to bring charters under control, we remain skeptical that the private-sector operators will change their irresponsible and, in some cases, unlawful behavior.

Our skepticism is derived from the fact that the Republican Party in Ohio is inextricably tied to the charter-school industry. Operators are major campaign contributors to Republican candidates.

The $30 million from the federal government that was flushed down the toilet is only the latest in a long list of questionable expenditures by the charter industry.

Last year, the Columbus Dispatch revealed that dozens of charter schools failed to repay more than $6 million they had misspent. The improper handling of taxpayer money involved about 40 privately operated but publicly funded schools and was uncovered by state audits conducted between 2008 and 2014. The publicizing of the audits coincided with the Obama administration’s decision to place a hold on the $71 million grant to the Ohio Department of Education for the schools. The action was taken after politicians of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, questioned the department’s ability to responsibly oversee spending of the federal money.

Now, with the Innovation Ohio-OEA report on the $30 million in federal funds wasted over the last 10 years, the need for much closer scrutiny by Washington of the industry is obvious.


U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, issued a statement last week that goes to the heart of the problem.

“Today’s report is yet another unfortunate example of how too many of our children are being denied a quality education because of the state of Ohio’s corrupt and broken charter-school oversight system. As an elected official, and more importantly as a father, I am appalled that Republican state officials would put profit of private companies over the well-being of our children. The $30 million that was wasted on failed charter schools could have and should have gone to those cash-strapped schools across our state that need it the most.”

Ryan’s demand for greater oversight of the operation charter schools and the expenditure of tax dollars should prompt the U.S. Department of Education to withhold allocation of the $71 million until the findings in the Innovation Ohio-OEA report are reviewed.

Charter schools in Ohio have generally failed to deliver on the promise of Republican legislators and governors that they would be a viable alternative to failing public schools in Ohio.

Instead, charters are now a largely unregulated private industry operating with public dollars.

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