Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ohio Supreme Court Justices Take Money from White Hat, Lets them Profit from Failure

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that White Hat Management -- the state's worst performing large-scale charter school operator -- gets to keep all the equipment it uses public money to buy, even if the school was shut down for being one of the state's worst performing schools.

White Hat -- run by Republican mega donor David Brennan -- can sell the equipment how it sees fit, even if it was its own incompetence and failure that led to the school's closing.

While this opinion may seem somewhat surprising, what isn't surprising is that the Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion has taken $5,000 in campaign contributions from Brennan and his family. Justice Judith Lanzinger received that money in 2004.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor -- whose political career started in Brennan's Summit County backyard -- received money every year she was up for the court in 2002, 2008 and 2010 when she ran for the Chief Justice seat. She has received a total of $11,900. Surprised she signed onto Lanzinger's opinion?

Justice Judith French received $7,200 last year when she ran for the high court -- as the White Hat lawsuit was pending. Any surprise she voted to uphold White Hat's right to profit from their failed school management?

I credit Justice Terrence O'Donnell for recusing himself from the case. He received more money than any other sitting Justice -- $15,000.

Justice Paul Pfeiffer took money from Brennan in the early 1990s, but hasn't recently and dissented from the Lanzinger opinion.

The opinions on this case are complex and complicated, with many of the Justices trying to seem like they are with White Hat on some things, but not others. Don't let them fool you with their strained efforts. On the only thing that mattered -- allowing Brennan to profit from his failed operations -- they were lock step behind their benefactor.

This case demonstrates emphatically the problem with electing judges. Namely, you get politicians in robes. The Court sat on the case for more than a year, but the minute the media started calling them out for the delay, they drop this disjointed opinion. Their vote splitting on various issues reminds me of legislative maneuvering to let members in tight districts save some face on what will be a bad bottom line vote for their district.

The other big charter school donor in this state -- William Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which received $100 million last year in state funding as well as all Fs and one D on the state report card -- also gave to Lanzinger, French, O'Connor and O'Donnell. While it wasn't Lager's issue that was before the court, the ruling would let Lager profit off the computers he lets kids use and other equipment he acquires while running that online school -- the nation's largest for-profit school.

We stagger as a state toward a respectable charter school program, while being constantly face slapped by the extraordinary challenges facing those who want quality school options for Ohio's kids. This case is another sobering reminder that, in the words of Robert Frost, we Ohioans who want quality options for kids have miles to go on this journey.

Like Frost, we have to keep seeking. We cannot sleep.