Charter Scandal Proves Necessity of Directly Funding Choice Schools

Charter schools in Ohio are widely known to be the most corrupt and failing in the country - a national joke. If they aren't failing students by the tens of thousands every year, they are embezzling, defrauding and wasting tax payers money by the millions. Over the last 2 years, according to Ohio.com, charter schools have accounted for 70 percent of misspent tax dollars in Ohio.

It was hoped that charter school reform legislation would begin to fix this mess, but powerful, monied charter lobbyists halted the legislation at the last minute.

Even if the reform legislation had of passed, it is likely that the reforms would be ineffective at creating accountable, higher performing schools. The reforms rely upon addressing weaknesses not in the schools, but in their authorizers. The recent ODE data scrubbing scandal, whereby authorizers grades became artificially inflated by not including the lowest performing schools data in their grade, demonstrates the level of protection the charter industry currently enjoys - and why this reform approach is certain to fail.

This protection was highlighted by emails within ODE

Hansen responded: “Well, I’d like to first feel secure in being able to do what I do for just charters. The last thing I want is for the process to end up sinking our little bit of autonomy from the edu-blob because someone sees it and thinks that someone would oppose what we’re trying to do.”

Hansen wrote in an email to a Cleveland charter-school leader on Dec. 26, 2013, saying, “I’ve been at (the Ohio Department of Education) for just 3 months but have a personal goal of protecting, if not growing, the autonomy to which charters are entitled and need in order to succeed.”

Responding to her complaint about a negative designation, he added that he’s hoping “we can get the people involved to spend more time on traditional public schools and leave charters alone.”

Pretty clear then, that effective charter reform is not going to happen under the current ODE leadership, or with this legislature, that has benefited to the tune of millions of dollars from the charter school lobby.

The damage charters are doing to public education in the state is further exasperated by the billion dollars it is siphoning away from higher performing traditional schools - with a further $290 million also being taken from local tax payers without their approval, or likely knowledge.

Instead of directly funding charters, the state subtracts the money from the bottom line for traditional districts, depending on where a student lives. There are growing calls to change that system, which traditional schools say unfairly punishes them and their local taxpayers.

About two weeks ago, the Worthington Board of Education passed a resolution urging the state to fund charter schools directly. The vote followed a presentation by the district treasurer showing huge losses from charter deductions.

Charter schools have a place in education, Marc Schare, board vice president, told his colleagues, but the funding structure is “devastating to our district.”

“What people need to understand is the state is essentially using their local district as a middleman, and there’s no reason for it,” Schare said later, arguing that the system lacks transparency and is misleading.

Given these sets of facts and circumstances, THE ONLY clear way forward to fixing charter schools in Ohio so that students get a quality education and tax payers get the services they pay for, is for the state to directly fund charter schools.

It would then become apparent to everyone which schools truly deserved the financial support, and which were not worth the public investment. Those charter schools should also be able to request, via local election, local tax monies - and voters would be free to decide if that investment was something they wished to pursue.

This would finally put charter schools and traditional schools on an equal footing, something that could only benefit students and their communities.