It wasn’t necessarily the big news of the day Thursday, but when the current head of the State Board of Education, Debe Terhar, said she won’t seek re-election to that panel, it likely elicited cheers of joy from a group of education advocates who rallied at the Statehouse today to hold charter schools—and the powerful politicians pushing them like Gov. John Kasich, Department of Education chief Dr. Richard Ross and Terhar—accountable for spending upwards of $1 billion on charter schools whose performance is generally poor compared to public schools, and largely exempted from hundreds of standards public schools must abide by.
Maureen Reedy, 2002 Teacher of the Year and co-founder of Central Ohio Friends of Public Education, provided an exclusive interview to OhioNewsBureau on why Ohio’s for-profit charter school industry have failed, offering children little more than empty promises. There is no return on taxpayer investments of $1 billion dollars per year, she said, adding that despite receiving more than twice the amount of money per student that public schools receive, charter schools graduate only 30-40 percent of students compared to an 81 percent graduate rate for public schools.
Watch Reedy talk to the issues she and her colleagues are so passionate about on this “60 Second” brand videos, brought to you by one of Ohio’s leading independent reporters.
Giving no quarter to proponents of charter schools, which include the state’s current Republican Gov. John Kasich, his education department leader Dr. Ross and virtually every other elected Republican who have created two parallel but very unequal worlds, one laisse faire world for charter schools and one unforgiving world for public schools, Reedy blasted them for supporting what she called a “failed free market promise.” The failure, she said, can be found in the data. Almost 9 out of every 10 charter school students, or 87 percent, attend a charter school with a D or F rating.
“After 20 years, a mountain of data proves that ‘turning a profit’ has turned into an ’empty promise’ of innovation and success for our kids,” she said. What burns Reedy and others who attended today’s rally, is the fact that giving for-profit charter operators a free pass on 200 state oversight laws has “flushed almost 8 billion of our hard earned tax dollars down the drain into failing schools for our kids.”
From as far back as 1999, Ohio newspapers have written one article after another on the shortcoming and outright failures of charter schools. Information received from education advocates at today’s rally shows that even the Columbus Dispatch, who endorsed Kasich and his razzle dazzle agenda in 2010 over the steady stewardship of the state through the Great Recession and will do so again for his reelection effort, offers important coverage of the issue that has created schisms in Ohio and other states on the same unproven ideological jag.
Also looking on today was William Phyllis, Executive Director at Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, one of Ohio’s strongest voices on the need for a thorough and efficient public school system and funding formula. Phyllis says he’s worried about the consequences from privatizing a public school system established and protected by the state constitution.
A key concern for Phyllis is the effort now underway in Ohio’s Constitutional Modernization Commission that would remove key words that precipitated the DeRolph v State decision that stands as a landmark case. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the state’s method for funding public education was unconstitutional. In 1851, when Ohio voters remade their constitution, they prevented it from entering into private enterprises as a partner. The legislature at the time came to be perceived as corrupt, subsidizing private companies and granting special privileges in corporate charters. The canal building companies of the day, the ones that went bankrupt when their far-flung plans failed, wanted a public sector partner to bail them out. At that convention 163 years ago, Ohio voters approved new language for a “thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state, which elected Buckeye leaders to day want to surgically remove now.
After its first ruling, the SCO ruled three additional times that the state system isn’t thorough or efficient. Republican governors and Republican-led General Assemblies since the SCO’s first ruling have chosen to ignore all of them, preferring instead to dole out more taxpayer dollars for a brick-and-mortar program that may have satisfied the cash-strapped dreams of Ohio’s 613 local school boards but did little to remedy an environment that still festers.
Phyllis told ONB that the decision by the governor and legislature to farm out the common public school system to private, for-profit entrepreneurs was a great mistake, one that he says has turned the charter school movement, in Ohio, into one of the biggest boondoggles that the state has ever engaged in. The long-time voice for public schools said it’s really about farming out the constitution’s common school system to the private sector. “Instead of a democratically operated school community, Ohio will have private entrepreneurs like David Brennan, William Welder and the Concept Schools, which have the Horizon Science Schools connection, Gulen, an Islamic cleric who is living in exile in Pennsylvania; here we have all these privately operated schools,” he said. The education warrior didn’t mince words on commoditizing learning, “The only thing public about them, they are extracting public funds from public school budgets,” he declared. “Bottom line, they’re privatizing the public common school system contrary to the constitution.”
Standing on the south steps of the Statehouse, Reedy was unrelenting, “Our governor and state legislators are taking 1 billion of our tax dollars a year to feed a failing Charter School system while starving our public schools that graduate well over two and a half times as many students. There’s something wrong with that equation.”
One personal example came from a student who attended the Dayton charter school at the center of a big political hot potato for the Kasich Administration. What the controversial, shocking and politically evolving story centers on are four whistleblower teachers who testified before the Ohio Board of Education, chaired by Debra Terhar who announced she won’t seek another term, about what they saw, heard and experience over a period of years at HSA. Reedy and rally attenders find it implausible that ODE’s crosshairs are now fixed on the teachers. ODE appears handcuffed by what the teachers testified to, but instead of supporting the whistleblowers, the whistleblowers are under fire from state education leaders for disclosing certain truths that prove the big risks Phyllis are happening before our eyes.
Cierra Florence, a 2012 graduate of the Horizon Science Academy of Dayton, said in a written statement that witnessed first hand most of the problems the HSA teachers talked about. “But I am here to tell you about the good people who worked at the school—the teachers who rescued me from homelessness, bought me food and clothes and made sure I did the work needed to graduate. These are some of the same teachers the Ohio Department of Education is now after,” she said. What’s even sadder for Florence, is why ODE “feels the need to try and punish these teachers for doing what’s right.”
Michelle VanVleet, who taught English and language arts at HSA from 2009-2014, also confirmed that she witnessed and experienced many of the same issues during her employment there. VanVleet said ODE claims the problems were isolated to just the Dayton charter school, but she said that is wrong. “They are not. It is clear from news stories across the country, my dealings with the school and conversations with other teachers that the problems are more systemic.”
Speaking specifically about HSA, VanVleet, who said she “parted ways with HSA this summer,” said to argue that these issues only affect one building is short-sighted. “The Turkish staff and leadership is moved around so frequently within the Concept-managed schools that one can reasonably assume that habits, unethical teaching and business practices, and other issues mentioned from former staff members move with them.” Working in new job, VanVleet said she isn’t a disgruntled former employee. “I worked with many talented and professional educators who were dedicated to student learning. Unfortunately not everyone exhibited those qualities, and it is the students and parents who have suffered and will continue to suffer,” she said.
Phyllis, the battle-scared warrior for education, said there is an effort underway now by the chairman of the education subcommittee of the OCMC to remove “thorough” and “efficient” from the Ohio Constitution. Phyllis said he and legal counsel in DeRolph have testified before that education committee. “We have had an opportunity to make our wishes known. However, the chairman of the Education Committee of the Constitutional Modernization Committee has indicated that he wants the words “thorough and efficient” removed form the Constitution of the State of Ohio.”
Removing this standard, Phyllis believes, downsizes government by one branch. Instead of three branches, the Judicial branch, the courts, won’t be needed because there won’t be any standards the public can rely upon to challenge how billions in taxpayer dollars are being spent since the operation of schools will be in the hands of private profiteers who can do no harm in the eyes of governors like John Kasich and General Assemblies like the Republican-led legislature in Columbus today.
No checks and balances is a bad idea, at least to Phyllis, who doesn’t want to type of oversight only the judicial branch of government can deliver. If you remove the standard, the legislature and governor are free to do what ever they want, and historically, when the legislature has no checks and balances, then some people get hurt in the process. Minorities and poor people get hurt, Phyllis says, because the political establishment is made up of folks other than minorities and poor people. “At all costs, we must maintain ‘thorough and efficient’ in the Constitution.”