Charter schools in Ohio are still getting free ride

If any other industry slop- ping at the public trough had as many complaints against it as the charter school industry in Ohio, a major grand jury investigation would have been launched long ago.

But not only have the charter schools, which have sucked up billions in public dollars, escaped independent scrutiny, they continue to be protected by Republicans in state government.

Indeed, Ohioans who are paying the tab for this failed experiment in non-public school education, seem disturbingly nonchalant when it comes to holding public officials’ feet to the fire.

Take the Nov. 6 general election that saw Republicans hold on to the governor’s office, the General Assembly and all statewide administrative offices. One of the major issues Democrats raised dealt with the scandal-ridden Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) charter that diverted $591 million from local school districts in Ohio, including $24 million from those in the Mahoning Valley.

The scandal epitomizes the unholy alliance between the charter school industry and the Ohio Republican Party. And yet, Republican officeholders who should have been held to account by the voters for the many instances of the industry’s misuse of public dollars, won election relatively unscathed.

In June, a month after the primary election, we editorialized that Republicans could not avoid responsibility for ECOT. But as the general election showed, not only did the GOP avoid responsibility, but key officeholders received promotions.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, the state’s lawyer, will take over as governor in January. Likewise, state Auditor Dave Yost, whose job it is to monitor the spending of public dollars, will be sworn in as attorney general.

In addition, Republicans retained control of the House and Senate even though they have refused to crack down on the charter schools by requiring them to adhere to the same laws, rules and regulations that govern public schools.

Limited oversight

The charter-school industry has operated in Ohio for more than two decades with comparatively limited oversight because Republicans in state government have been held hostage by the campaign contributions and other largess from charter operators.

Against the backdrop of the charter school industry having its boot firmly on the GOP’s neck, last week’s report on a yearlong investigation by the state auditor’s office into a charter-school evaluation scandal by the Ohio Department of Education leaves us unmoved.

We’ve heard that song before.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Lack of oversight, a haphazard internal investigation, inexplicable emails that don’t say who sent or received them, a stonewalling state superintendent and a failure to secure data,” are the highlights of the investigation by Auditor Yost’s office.

The problems erupted three years ago when it was discovered that David Hansen, at the time the education department’s school-choice director, excluded poorly performing e-school scores from new charter-sponsor results, the Dispatch reported. As a result, they were able to avoid having the low scores reflect badly on their overall evaluations. The move was related to the state’s effort to obtain a $71 million federal charter-school grant.

The state superintendent of public instruction at the time was Dick Ross.

The fudging of scores violated state law, and yet the chances are slim to none that a formal independent investigation will be launched to address this and the myriad other allegations into the operation of the charter schools.

So long as Republicans are in control of state government, private operators of charter schools will be protected. The GOP is addicted to the campaign contributions from influential donors.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper has raised the specter of Auditor Yost’s untrustworthiness on this issue given that he waited until after the Nov. 6 election to release the investigative report.

Pepper told The Dispatch Yost can’t be trusted to hold charter schools accountable so “taxpayers deserve an independent investigation.”

An independent investigation of the charter-school industry is demanded, but don’t hold your breath for Republicans to do the right thing.

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