Ohio Charter schools bilking taxpayers for students that don't attend

Before we get to the details of the Auditor of States report titled "Report on Community School Student Attendance", we want to acknowledge the Auditor for carrying out these surprise visits to charter schools to determine the legitimacy of their reported student attendance counts.

The substance of the Auditors report should alarm everyone. A random inspection of 30 schools found that a majority of them are significantly over reporting their student attendance, and consequently receiving significantly more money than they are entitled to. Money that is being drawn from local school districts.

Just how bad is this problem?

One school literally had no students in attendance, despite reporting to ODE that they had 152! When questioned about this, according to the report, "The Director indicated the Academy was engaged in a set of weeklong practice tests for the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) the week of October 1, 2014. Once the testing was completed each day that week, students were permitted to leave."

The Auditor did another follow up visit a month later, the result indicate fraud on a massive scale

*The Academy’s calendar did not indicate practice testing for the OGT would be taking place the week of October 1, 2014.
*The Auditor of State’s office made an unannounced follow up visit on Monday, November 3, 2014.
*AOS reviewed the OGT practice test documents and related answer sheets from the week of October 1, 2014. AOS noted that the test booklets were from 2004. Each booklet had a student’s name on it along with the answer sheet.
*The number of students present did not correspond to the number of tests given on each day.
*AOS also performed a head count at 10:15 a.m. accounting for 37 students.

The report goes on to detail dozens of charter schools massively over-reporting their attendance in order to receive more money than they are entitled to, many of them giving all manner of weak excuses.

AOS also identified one community school whose educational plan in the sponsor agreement did not authorize a blending learning program; however, management informed AOS during an interview that the school was in fact employing a blended learning curriculum with some student learning opportunities provided in the classroom and some provided online.

Lastly, AOS identified one community school operating a blended learning program as authorized by the sponsor in the educational plan; however, there was no evidence that the community school provided the blended learning declaration to ODE required under Ohio Rev. Code §3302.41(A).

This indicates that not only are the schools themselves operating in a very questionable manner, but their sponsors are asleep at the wheel, and not actively monitoring them.

The magnitude of the potential fraud is staggering, and would be the largest financial scandal in the history of Ohio. Steve Dyer did the math

Yost came up with several recommendations, including more frequent counts, better reporting and practices that allow sponsors and the state to better flag potential issues. But the point is this: We've had charters for 16 years in Ohio. We've spent now about $8.3 billion on them (through the first January payment report). If the headcounts have been as off as they were during this random audit, which was an average of 28%, during the life of the charter school program, then we've paid $2.3 billion for kids that weren't even in the charter schools.

This level of potential fraud requires a statewide investigation and referrals to county prosecutors. Both Charter operators and their sponsors should be held liable to repay all monies they have received for students they have not taught.

Any doubt that the charter experiment in Ohio is out of control can be vanquished. Reform cannot come soon enough.

Here's the Auditors report.

Report on Community School Student Attendance Counts