By Maureen Reedy, former teacher of the year and candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives.
History seems to be repeating itself in the Statehouse. Once again, legislators are poised to pass a state budget bill that continues to take billions of our tax dollars out of traditional public schools to fund for-profit charters that have produced dismal results after two decades of experimentation in our state.
“Let the money follow the child,” is a favorite phrase of Gov. John Kasich and his fellow charter-school fans to craft legislation that diverts more and more of our public funds to charter schools each year.
For two decades, the money has been following Ohio’s children out of the doors of our public schoolhouses and through the doors of charter schools. Despite losing over $6 billion to charters during the past 15 years, traditional public schools continue to vastly outperform their charter-school counterparts.
While 77 percent of Ohio’s public schools were successful last year (rated Excellent with Distinction, Achieving or Effective), only 23 percent of Ohio’s charters were successful (rated Effective or Achieving). So 77 percent of Ohio’s public schools are receiving A’s, B’s and C’s while 77 percent of Ohio’s charter schools are receiving D’s and F’s. And the bottom 111 performing schools last year? All were charter schools.
Graduation rates also should give our legislators reason to put the brakes on funneling dollars to charters: 81 percent of Ohio’s students graduate from their public high schools as compared to a 30 percent to 40 percent high-school graduation rate for charter-school students.
“Following the money” also leads us to family-run charter-school operations with hefty salaries and few education credentials, including multimillion-dollar salaries for the CEOs of Ohio’s two largest charter-school chains, David Brennan of White Hat Management Co. and William Lager of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Our tax dollars also are going to pay for advertising campaigns to recruit students to attend their underperforming charter schools.
Also perplexing are the two sets of rules that seem to exist for public schools and charter schools. Apparently, once public money goes into a charter-school operation, it ceases to be public and belongs to the charter-school corporation.
Brennan of White Hat has refused to open his books to the state auditor for the third consecutive year. We are still waiting to hear exactly what percentage of public tax money is being spent on instructional resources and supports for educating children verses top-level multimillion-dollar administrative salaries, advertising and recruitment efforts in the corporate headquarters of White Hat.
In addition, while Lager of ECOT receives millions of dollars for his annual salary from public funding, his private software company has enjoyed profits of over $10 million in just a single year selling products to his ECOT schools, paid for by our public tax dollars.
Charter schools also are permitted to close their doors and shut down operations when cited for multiple violations, only to re-open the next day under a different sponsor, in a different building under a different name and continue to receive our tax dollars.
As charters close, oftentimes at mid-year, hundreds of children are shuffled back to their public schools without adequate records and a significant loss of instructional time. Just as tragic is the students’ loss of community and social connections, which contributes to academic deficits and delays.
As a parent, taxpayer and 30-year public-school teacher, I have to ask: Why are legislators proposing a budget that does nothing to restore funding for our public schools, but instead increases funding to charter schools? Why are we continuing to invest billions in a failed experiment that weakens our stronger-performing traditional school system and risks the future of Ohio’s children?