Man, I am getting sick of this. How many times do national publications have to do the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio General Assembly's work for them before real changes are instituted here about charter schools?
This time it was USA Today and Pro Publica that broke the news yesterday that Ohio charter schools consistently bill the state for students that simply are not there. And you know who knows about this and does nothing? The Ohio Department of Education. How do I know this? Because the data Pro Publica used was from the Ohio Department of Education!!!!
My God. ODE knows on certain days a handful of kids show up at a dropout recovery school that is charging taxpayers for educating hundreds of kids? Yet they do nothing. Not. A. Thing.
This isn't all ODE's fault. From the very beginning, state regulators' authority over charters has been neutered by an Ohio General Assembly that has been in the pocket of the guys who profit off the absent kids in our state's charter schools. Don't believe me?
How about this in an Akron Beacon Journal story from 2014:
"In 2003, legislation sponsored by then Rep. Jon Husted, now the secretary of state, created a buffer between the Department of Education and charter schools by placing control in the hands of “sponsors,” or “authorizers,” who generally were school-choice advocates.
They, not the Ohio Department of Education, were in charge of approving new charters, and enrollment surged from 30,000 in 2003 to 125,900 today. And they have an incentive to open more schools rather than close them because their revenue is based on the number of children in the schools they oversee."Husted, who now wants to be Governor, wasn't done.
A 2005 report completed by the Ohio Association of Public Charter Schools found that
"The most ambitious evaluations of charter school characteristics and performance in Ohio come from a series of reports produced by the state’s independent Legislative Office of Education Oversight (LOEO) from 2000 to 2004.
LOEO’s most recent report, issued in December 2003, specifically focused on academic performance and accountability of charter schools, and found that many Ohio charters fall significantly short of meeting their promise to improve academic achievement. By and large, LOEO found that charters were doing no better than traditional public schools, and that a large minority were doing substantially worse than comparable district schools.I ask you, dear reader, what is different from the LOEO analysis from 2003 and the analysis completed more than a decade later by the generally charter school supporting Center for Research on Educational Outcomes that found 40 percent of Ohio's charter schools were in "urgent" need of improvement and kids in Ohio charters often did far worse than their local public school counterparts?
We've known Ohio's charter schools in general were in trouble from the very beginning of the program. Yet little has changed in terms of overall charter school performance or oversight. This is what drives me crazy about many in our state's newfound concern over charter school performance.
Where have all these people been living? Ohio's charter schools have always been worse performing, scandal ridden and profit centers for people motivated to buy nice houses in far off places, not educate kids.
What USA Today reported is nothing new.
Perhaps things would have been different if Ohio's charter schools had continued to be evaluated by a strong state oversight agency like the LOEO.
Well, charter school cheerleader Husted couldn't have that.
So, in the landmark House Bill 66 -- the 2005 state biennial budget bill that began Ohio's recent obsession with tax cuts -- soon-to-be-House-Speaker Husted had inserted into the House version of the bill an amendment that killed the LOEO. Tellingly, the Ohio Senate took out that amendment, but it was reinserted into Conference Committee.
So the state agency that had been sounding the charter school alarm for the first years of the program -- and could have shamed Ohio lawmakers into action sooner -- was dead.
ODE got the message. Loud and clear. Cross charters and you die.
So they don't cross charters. At least not in major ways. While the department's current effort to claw back $60 million the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow owes taxpayers for overbilling them in the 2015-2016 school year plus another $20 million from last school year is a hopeful sign, ODE's weak response to ECOT's effort to become a dropout recovery school is simply more of the same.
I guess I'm just exhausted, though. I started working at the Akron Beacon Journal in 1997 -- the same year the state adopted its charter school law. Over the last 20 years, I have seen every major non-partisan, objective examination of Ohio's charter schools come to the same conclusion: they simply don't, on the whole, offer better options for kids and parents.
Of course a few do. But ladies and gentlemen we have now spent nearly $11 billion on charter schools since I entered my professional life. And we have maybe 40-50 charters that account for a small fraction of that $11 billion that are worthy of being compared with Ohio's local public schools.
That's a horrible return on taxpayer investment. When will legislators and political leaders in this state act to really fix this. Not just nibble around the edges, or hope that non-profits with powerful financial motives to not fix it instead ignore those motives and fix it. But actually purge the innumerable scofflaws from our state.
This is embarrassing. Not because we had a charter school fraud story published in a national newspaper. But because this story has been written about Ohio's charter schools for 20 years.
And our elected leaders simply do nothing. Yet we keep electing them.