The answer to why Ohio Charter School Godfather David Brennan and his allies finally signed off on the Transformation Alliance -- the public-private Cleveland partnership that the Cleveland education plan originally called to have sign off authority on new Charter Schools in the district -- has been crystallized. The two entities that sponsor many of his Charter Schools will never be under scrutiny by the Alliance.
According to the Plain Dealer, neither the politically connected Ohio Council for Community Schools, nor the Lucas County ESC will ever be examined by the Alliance because they have lifetime licenses from the state that never need renewal -- the only time the new language lets the community scrutinize Charter sponsors.
The schools those two sponsors run received $371 million of the $721 million Ohio taxpayers sent to Charter Schools last year. Sponsors typically get 3% of that revenue, which would make the sponsors' haul a little more than $11 million.
Over half the money spent on Charters in this state were spent on schools sponsored by these two groups. In addition, they "educate" 51,438 children, about half of all Charter students, for a per pupil cost of $7,212 -- more than twice as much as the state spends per pupil on children in the traditional public schools. Yet the Cleveland Plan deal exempts these two Charter School sponsors -- the state's largest (Lucas) and third largest (OCCS) -- from local scrutiny over their performance.
Only 6 of the Ohio Council for Community Schools' Charters rate Effective (B) or better on the State Report Card. OCCS' former executive director was Allison Perz, the daughter of Sally Perz -- the Toledo State Rep. who pushed through the Charter School bill in 1998. Allison Perz made $105,000 a year at one point as OCCS' Executive Director.
Only 18 of the Lucas County ESC's 67 Charters rate Effective or better. Lucas County is where new political donor William Lager was able to land after his ECOT was rejected by the state. The state rarely rejected Charter School applications then.
Again, lawmakers and others have complained bitterly about how easy it is for schools to be rated A or A+, which is part of the reason they want a tougher Report Card System. Yet no one ever asks, "If it's so easy to get As and A+s, why don't more Charters get them?"
These two sponsors include some of the most notorious Charter Schools in the state. Lucas County sponsors the ECOT (which takes more Cleveland kids than any other Charter School) and the Buckeye Online School of Success. Both e-schools have graduation rates that are dwarfed by nearly every traditional public school district.
OCCS sponsors several of the disastrous, Brennan-run Life Skills Centers (whose collective graduation rate is 10.8%) and the K-12, Inc.-run Ohio Virtual Academy, with its 51:1 student-teacher ratio.
These groups also sponsor some highly rated schools, like Intergenerational School in Cleveland and Menlo Park Academy. However, they will not receive scrutiny over the laggards in their ranks because the Charter School Lobby once again sacrificed the little fish to save the big fish. When will the little fish rise up, by the way?
Again, this is not an indictment of Charter Schools. It is an indictment of how these have been operated in Ohio since their inception -- not as small incubators of innovation, but as big funding streams for large political contributors. This isn't how it works everywhere else in the country.
In order to determine how effective Charter Schools can be in helping to improve education, we must first drum out the politics and clean up the system. While not confident that will happen anytime soon, I do hope that the machinations we've seen over the last year, from the Ohio House letting Brennan's right-hand man to write Charter School accountability laws, to letting the big fish escape scrutiny whenever they can, will lead to an outrage that demands a better funding and accountability system.
Remember that because of the way Charters are funded, kids in traditional public schools get 6.5% less from the state than the state says they need to be adequately educated simply because Charters exist.
Regardless of what side you're on with Charter Schools, the way they're operating in Ohio isn't working, least of all for kids.