Senate Bill 329, introduced in April by Senator Joe Schiavoni, is finally getting a hearing by the Senate Education Committee this week. The bill is striking in its simplicity — it seeks to hold charter school owners & operators accountable for how they spend public dollars. The simplicity of this bill also reveals just how lax Ohio’s oversight of charter school spending has been for the last decade and a half.
Here’s the one-sentence addition to Ohio Revised Code in SB 329 that could have a drastic change in exposing how charter schools are spending public tax dollars:
Sec. 3314.031. Each nonpublic operator of a community school and each nonpublic entity that sponsors a community school shall comply with section 149.43 of the Revised Code as if it were a public office with respect to all records pertaining to the management or sponsorship of the school.
Ohio Revised Code section 149.43 defines public records and the legal responsibility to provide those public records upon request (Ohio Open Records Law). Some version of open records law has been on Ohio’s books since 1963. Senate Bill 329 would prevent private charter school operators from transferring the public dollars directly onto the private companies books and claiming they are no longer open to public scrutiny.
The bill would also mandate the State Auditor to conduct annual audits of charter school operators and sponsors, requiring those entities to provide the auditor’s office with all records related to the spending of public monies:
In the case of a nonpublic operator or sponsor, the audit shall cover only those accounts, reports, records, and files regarding the operator’s or sponsor’s receipt or expenditure of public funds relating to the operation or sponsorship of a community school.
In the 2013-14 school year, the state of Ohio diverted over $900,000,000 in state tax dollars away from local public schools and into charter school bank accounts. This year, that figure is expected to grow ever closer to $1,000,000,000.
With local public schools accountable to explain to the public how every penny is being spent, it’s well past time that Ohio’s charter schools are held to the same standard.