White Hat Management owner David Brennan identifies himself as a lot of things on state campaign finance reports : President, CEO, Chairman – even investor and industrialist. But never once does he claim to be an educator. And for good reason. To Brennan and other for-profit charter operators, schools are for making money, not for educating students. And his schools’ test scores and graduation rates more than prove this point.

By every standard measure of success White Hat’s charter schools in Ohio – to put it bluntly – suck.

Based on data from the Ohio Department of Education, Three White Hat Hope Academies have already been ordered closed by the state. One for academic viability, one for contractual non-compliance and one because their academic performance was so low they couldn’t find a new sponsor.

In addition, two more schools are very likely to be closed this year. One is “Required to Close on or Before June 30, 2011” and the other “Will Close if Academic Emergency and Below on Value Added in 2010-2011”

And of the 27 Life Skills and Hope Academy schools they still operate in our state, 17 are in academic watch or academic emergency.

And yet, these schools receive an average of $7,044.88 per student despite the fact that many of their schools have graduation rates in the single digits. (details included at the end of this post). By comparison, Franklin County public school districts receive on average $3,957.94 per student.

Let me put it another way:

The state of Ohio is paying White Hat Management Company nearly $74 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR – nearly twice as much as it pays to public schools – to completely fail our state’s kids.

And that’s just on the academic side of things.

Republican Lt. Governor Mary Taylor, back when she was State Auditor, slapped 19 community schools operated by White Hat Management in Akron for abusive business practices.

Brennan and his wife have broken campaign finance laws by over-donating to Republicans – including Mary Taylor and Bill Batchelder.

And ten of White Hat’s OWN SCHOOLS have sued White Hat to escape from the evil grip of this charter school management company – and the claims from the boards of these schools are pretty damning…

Through the current management agreements, White Hat has control of 96 percent or more of the public money received to run the schools and has the power to terminate teachers, administrators and board members.

The schools charge that they have been given scant accounting information to assess how the public money for their facilities is being spent, making it difficult for them to assess their financial positions as they renegotiate their contracts.

They also accuse White Hat of improperly spending, commingling or pooling state grant money, failing to file required quarterly reports, and providing property inventories that don’t identify which property is owned by White Hat and which is owned by the schools.

The schools further accuse White Hat of failing to promote the academic success of students and of using public money to purchase management-owned property that is being kept in Florida.

Colonel Sanders David Brennan (Image from the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Most of this evidence is not new. White Hat and other for-profit charter schools have been a huge black eye to the Ohio’s charter school supporters since the beginning and yet David Brennan, White Hat’s owner, continues to hold considerable sway with Republican politicians in the state because of his HUGE campaign contributions.

As we mentioned out last week, those contributions are finally paying off this year when the GOP controls all of state government. Instead of helping to rein in White Hat’s corrupt and dangerous practices, Kasich and the GOP legislature have decided not just to give Brennan a pass on these practices, but they are actually going to change the law to help make it easier for him to continue stealing state money and failing Ohio’s children.

The current budget will streamline the process for for-profit schools to grow and abuse the system with severely limited oversight. Here’s a list of the changes the the Plain Dealer published on Saturday related to for-profit charters:

  • Empowers for-profit corporations to start up and run charter schools – without the oversight of a sponsor, which is required for all charter schools now.
  • Permits a charter school’s board to give up all its rights and responsibilities to a for-profit or nonprofit operator, who would employ the teachers and other staffers
  • Provides that once taxpayer money is given to a charter school operator, it is no longer considered public money and anything the operator buys with it becomes the operator’s property.
  • Allows charter school sponsors – mostly school districts, education service centers and non-profit groups – to oversee up to 100 charter schools apiece instead of the current caps of 50 or 75.
  • Ensures that charter schools don’t have to follow any laws or rules that private schools don’t have to follow, unless they are specifically spelled out for charters in state law or a contract.
  • Prohibits charter school employees from collectively bargaining, although if they have a contract, it’s good until it expires.

In addition, the GOP-controlled house removed restrictions in the original budget that would have prevented companies like White Hat from opening new schools if their existing schools were failing.

The goal of this budget seems pretty obvious. White Hat has a problem with their schools and boards and sponsors so the legislature just removes them from the picture, allowing White Hat to drirectly start up schools as for-profit companies, eliminating the hassle of oversight. White Hat has a problem with people questioning how they use public funds provided by the state, so the legislature just makes those funds private as soon as they are delivered to White Hat.

Some of the language in this budget is so specifically directly at helping White Hat that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Brennan’s lawyers write it themselves. Whether it’s true or not, Ohio’s GOP politicians appear to be paying back one of their largest campaign donors with millions of state dollars while completely disregarding the educational needs of thousands of Ohio’s students.

Speaker Batchelder is a smart man with a great deal of experience in state government and I seriously hope he does the right thing here. Batchelder needs to show some real leadership to protect Ohio’s education dollars and Ohio’s children from the greed-driven agenda of Brennan and his ilk. It would be a damn shame to see Batchelder’s long legislative career flushed down the toilet, destroying Ohio’s education system for generations in exchange for a few grand in campaign contributions from a sleezebag like David Brennan.

White Hat Schools Grad Rate