‘Chartergate’ exposes ties between the GOP, industry


With each new report of wrongdoing, Ohio’s scandal-ridden charter school system becomes all the more untenable. Yet, Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to impose the same rules, regulations and policies on charters that govern Ohio’s public schools.

For more than two decades, the GOP has served as the protector of the private operators. But that should come as no surprise, considering it was the Republicans in the Legislature who succumbed to pressure from some well-heeled, politically powerful individuals and launched the charter system.

Since then, the privately operated schools have had limited oversight from the state. Thus, the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on this experiment in education have not delivered on the promises made by the GOP many years ago.

There have been numerous failures, but none as significant as the demise of the highly touted Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

In a five-year period, the ECOT charter diverted $591 million from local school districts in Ohio, including $24 million from those in the Mahoning Valley.

At its peak, there were 12,000 students who were lured away from public schools with the promise of bright academic futures online.

William “Bill” Lager, who founded the school in 2000, was the beneficiary of the public dollars. However, Lager, with close ties to the Republican Party, bailed out in January of this year after ECOT was unable to repay about $80 million it owed the state.

The reality of the flawed charter school system is now being played out in Youngstown, where Summit Academy Secondary School on Shady Run Road has been placed under a corrective action plan by the Ohio Department of Education.

ODE’s Office for Exceptional Children reviewed the operation of the charter school, which received $4.3 million in state and federal funding for the 2016-17 school year, and found several instances of noncompliance with state law.

Outcome

What is especially troubling about the findings against the Summit Academy Secondary School is that the students ultimately suffered.

It is important to note that of the 243 students enrolled in the school, 188 have disabilities and 222 are economically disadvantaged.

According to the state, teachers were instructed to “make the information up” to meet deadlines for assessments determining students’ disability status.

There’s a paragraph in the ODE report that not only reflects the seriousness of what took place at Summit Academy, but also the underlying problem with the charter school system in Ohio:

“Students identified as having multiple disabilities were not receiving services and support.”

Playing fast and loose with the lives of Ohio’s children and with taxpayer dollars are the hallmarks of the charters.

What the Republicans have done is to create a system of education that is long on promises and short on results.

Democrats have seized on the charter-schools debacle to highlight the unholy alliance between wealthy operators and Republican officeholders and candidates.

“Chartergate” was coined by Democrats about three years ago after Republican Gov. John Kasich’s handpicked charter czar, David Hansen, husband of Kasich’s chief of staff, was shown to have illegally manipulated grading reports to allow failing charter schools to draw down on more taxpayer funding.

Since then, other incidents of wrongdoing have been used to bolster the narrative from Democrats that the Republican majority in the General Assembly is owned by the charter school industry and is, therefore, unwilling to regulate the schools in the same way as public education is regulated.

We have long demanded accountability and transparency, and while various Republican officeholders have said all the right things, GOP lawmakers have been unwilling to put in place legitimate checks and balances.

Ohio’s charter school industry, which has become a national joke, has had a free ride for far too long.

Democrats are on the right political track in making “Chartergate” an issue in this year’s statewide election. Ohio’s parents and guardians who care about the education of their children have a right to the truth.

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