Ohio: The One Reform That Is Forbidden

This past year, there were numerous reports of scandals, arrests, and convictions of charter operators in Ohio. There seemed to be real hope to enact legislation that would hold charter schools accountable and make their finances transparent. But that died in the closing hours of the legislative session.

Why?

Charter operators wrote the charter law. They give millions of dollars in campaign contributions to key legislators. The Speaker of the House took a free trip to Turkey, thanks to the Turkish Gulen charter chain.

Charters don’t want to be regulated. They don’t want to be accountable or transparent. The leading charter operators receive hundreds of millions from taxpayers each year, even though most of their schools are rated as low-performing by the state.

In this post, Denis Smith explains the inner workings of the charter industry, which he calls “the dark side.” Smith worked in the State Department of Education, in the office intended to oversee charter schools.

He writes:

“At a national charter school conference in Indianapolis several years ago, two attendees saw my registration badge at a reception and approached me. “Ohio, huh? So you’re from the Wild, Wild West!”

“They, of course, were talking about a state that allows two charter school operators to direct several million dollars in GOP campaign donations during the last decade in return for favorable treatment (read: weak oversight) and the receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars from state funds. Finance types and Wharton School profs would marvel about such a robust return on investment.

“They were also talking about a state that does not require charter school board members to be American citizens and doesn’t have a problem with non-citizens serving on charter boards, and where one of the members of the House Education Committee advocates burdensome Voter ID requirements for citizens trying to vote.”

Ohio has an excellent website called “KnowYourCharter.” It was not created by the State Education Department, but by independent groups using official data. The charter sector has some of the state’s lowest performing schools and is far behind the state’s public schools. But don’t expect Givernor Kasich and the current legislature to hold them accountable.

Accountability is only for public schools.

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