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Charter schools in Ohio get needed fed oversight


Published: Tue, September 20, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m.

After squandering $30 million from the federal government, Ohio’s politically influential charter school industry is being rewarded with an additional $71 million from the U.S. Department of Education. Why? Because officials in Washington believe the rules, regulations and guidelines governing the grant will avoid a repeat of the sordid history.

We aren’t so sure, which is why we believe that the individual appointed as the independent monitor should come from the private sector and should be someone with a record as a government watchdog.

The Ohio Department of Education, which is the conduit for the $71 million, is to hire the independent monitor – with the approval of Washington. We and other critics of Ohio’s charter schools will be watching closely to ensure that the appointee isn’t in the pocket of the charter school industry.

Such public oversight is more than justified. Earlier this year, Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank, and the Ohio Education Association issued a report that contained this shocking revelation: $30 million from the federal government was spent on 92 charter schools in Ohio that either closed or failed to open.

The money was funneled through the state education department, which handled applications from charter schools on behalf of the federal agency.

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

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 between 2008 and 2014.

FAILED EDUCATIONAL EXPERIMENT

Billions of tax dollars have been spent on this largely failed experiment in education. Proponents continue to argue that charter schools are needed to give parents who are unhappy with underperforming public schools systems an alternative. But widespread waste of money and the generally poor academic performance of the charters have proved the critics right.

Yet, the charter school industry has fended off any attempt to dismantle the existing system by being inextricably tied to the Republican Party in Ohio through campaign contributions to GOP candidates.

Last year, in the face of horror stories about mismanagement and waste, Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly took steps to bring charters under control. But as we said at the time, we remain skeptical that the private-sector operators will change their irresponsible and, in some cases, unlawful behavior.

That is why we continue to question the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to approve the $71 million grant, the largest such allocation in the country.

Aware of the public skepticism, clearly articulated by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and other members of Congress from the state, the federal government announced last week a list of conditions governing the $71 million grant, which has been designated as “high risk.”

In addition to hiring an independent monitor approved by Washington, the Ohio Department of Education will be required to create a database that indicates public charter schools’ academic, operation and financial performance; submit expenditure documentation for review and receive approval for all withdrawals from the grant account; and form a Grant Implementation Advisory commit- tee of parents, teachers and community members to create transparency.

Ryan and Brown are to be commended for turning a bright spotlight on the numerous failures, mismanagement and even questionable activities that have been the hallmark of the charter school system in Ohio.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the U.S. Department of Education’s hard line with regard to the expenditure of the $71 million is the result of the members of Congress insisting on federal oversight of the taxpayer dollars.

Given the history of questionable activities within the charter school system, we would recommend the filing of criminal charges against any operator found to have broken the law.

The charter school industry in Ohio has had a free ride for too long. It’s time to rein it in.


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