Wild, Wild West of Charter School Land
by Maureen Reedy

Welcome to the wild, wild, west of “charter school land” in Columbus, Ohio. Finally, it looks as though the sheriff is riding into town, thanks to the thorough investigative journalism of Greg Mild (Plunderbund ECOT series) and Dispatch reporters, Bill Bush and Jennifer Smith Richards (Dispatch, Charter Failure, January 12th).

Our schoolchildren have been victimized long enough by callous charter school operators who treat students as if they are commodities to be traded in the market place. Consider the quote regarding the record 17 charter school closings this year, 250 students displaced and almost $2 million dollars of taxpayers’ money down the drain; “It was a difficult market, and some of the operators simply weren’t ready to handle running a school. It’s a hazard of the business.”  (Lahoski, Dispatch- Charter School Failures)

It is time to put the business model of running charter school chains for profit (or fake “non-profits managed by for-profit operators”) to rest. Our children are not products on an assembly line, they do not have dollar signs on their backs and they are not for sale. The biggest “hazard in the business” of running charter schools is the abysmal overall performance rate of the charter school system in Ohio, with an overall graduation rate of 30 – 40%, compared to an overall statewide public school graduation rate of 81%.  Why invest a billion dollars of our tax money a year in “businesses” to “educate” our children, while draining vital resources from our public schools that have twice the graduation rate of the business model based charter schools?

Are we living in a lawless state? Where are the regulations for charter schools? Why has our state legislature exempted charter school operators with dismal results from over 150 state regulations that our public schools are held accountable to? Why has our state legislature quadrupled vouchers to underperforming charter schools in the last two state budgets while drastically cutting funding to public education, forcing local taxpayers to pick up the shortfall with increased school levies, increased class sizes, pay to play and cuts to art, music, theatre and physical education classes?

Unbelievably, in charter school land, even the Ohio Department of Education has no regulatory power over scrutinizing potential sponsors for charter schools, “The way it works right now is, if a school as a sponsor and they sign a contract, that school can open, we don’t have any approval or denial power.” (John Charlton, the Ohio Department of Education).  Why in the world is it called the Ohio Department of Education then?

Kudos to the Dispatch’s editorial board for finally demanding that the charter school sham be addressed and settled, once and for all, by the courts and the legislature (Editorial, Failure to launch). Here are a few items to add to the charter school lawless laundry list: William Lager, CEO of ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Ohio) has accumulated over $100 million dollars as CEO of his taxpayer funded on-line charter empire while graduating only 35% of his students. Lager has accumulated his wealth by creating private companies to sell services and products, such as computer software, to ECOT.  Official audits released by the Ohio Auditor of State have reported Lager received $28,354,426 over a seven-year period without ever submitting a single invoice required by law documenting services provided by him or his companies to ECOT.

In addition, our state legislature has chosen to reward William Lager of ECOT, with over $180 million dollars in state funding over the past 2 years, the largest increase in state funding for any charter school in Ohio, plus a “bonus” check of $2.9 million in state aid. Only in charter school land would hundreds of millions of public school tax dollars be given to a CEO with no professional education certification, running an on-line school district that receives overall D’s and F’s ratings and graduates only 35% of its students.

It’s a good thing the sheriff is finally riding into town.