Ohio House Bill 2 has now been relegated to “lip-service” status on charter school reform after the GOP-dominated House Education Committee refused to adopt any meaningful changes (including recommendations by Republican State Auditor Dave Yost). When it was introduced, it was allegedly a bill that would be demonstrating that Ohio Republicans, including Governor Kasich, were serious about turning the corner on Ohio’s charter schools and becoming serious about holding them to the same level of accountability as Ohio’s real public schools.
Instead, House Bill 2 has fallen flat. As reported by the Ohio Education Association this week [emphasis-added]:
In the most recent action on HB 2, the House Education Committee adopted 20 amendments to the bill at its Tuesday, March 17 hearing. Most of the amendments consist of the Governor’s charter school recommendations proposed in the state budget bill (HB 64), which are heavily focused on charter school sponsor accountability.
Notably absent from the additions made to the bill were most of the reform recommendations submitted to the committee by State Auditor Dave Yost (R). The Auditor’s proposals were based on his recent on-site audits of numerous charter schools, which raised a variety of concerns about the lack of accountability and transparency.
Fellow Republicans on the House Education Committee rejected the State Auditor’s recommendations for more transparency on how tax dollars are spent by charter schools, tighter student truancy laws for charters, more accountable charter school governance and measures to prevent charter operators from using these schools as a “back-door means to acquire real estate.” The committee also rejected numerous amendments proposed by Democrats, some of which were attempts to include the Auditor’s proposals in the bill.
Now attention can be turned to the Senate, where Senator Michael Skindell has introduced Senate Bill 59, a simple bill designed to “open the books” of Ohio’s charter schools so that public money truly remains “public” and charters cannot hide their spending from the public eye. Public entities in Ohio are subject to Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, yet charter schools continually hide their spending by claiming that the private companies they contract with for services don’t have to disclose their activities. SB59 also seeks to add language that the Auditor recommended — but the House Education Committee rejected — that any property purchased with public money is public property, not the property of the private operator or management company.
Sec. 3314.025 . (A) Any state funds paid to a community school pursuant to this chapter that are used as payment for services rendered by an operator or management company shall maintain their status as public money once transferred to the operator or management company.
(B) When an operator or management company expends public money to purchase furniture, computers, software, equipment, or other personal property for use in the operation of a community school under this chapter, such property is property of that school and is not property of the operator or management company.
(C) An operator or management company that has been contracted to provide services to a community school is not prohibited from earning a profit by way of its utilization of public money. However, the operator or management company shall retain proceeds gained through such services only after the operator or management company has fully discharged its contractual, statutory, and fiduciary obligations to that community school.
Currently, private charter school operators like White hat Management and ECOT hide their spending of public money behind language like “trade secrets” and “proprietary information”.
ECOT actually goes so far as to require all employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of employment and with the threat of termination and legal action if any information about ECOT’s activities are divulged:
This type of Non-Disclosure Policy would never be acceptable, enforceable or even considered within real public schools whose actions, activities, and property (both tangible and intellectual) that are funded through the use of taxpayer dollars are completely open to public scrutiny.
Senate Bill 59 had its first hearing by the Senate Education Committee last week and deserves not only more hearings, but the bill should be tightened up a bit to ensure that Ohio’s charters don’t exploit any remaining loopholes. Auditor Yost should be invited to testify before this committee to share his list of recommendations to this upper-house body that might actually listen and seek to enact some change.
We urge you to contact the Senators on the Senate Education Committee (click here), especially Chair Peggy Lehner, to push for more hearings on, thoughtful amendments to, and eventual passage of Senate Bill 59.
Your contact can be short, sweet, and direct. Something like this:
I am writing to you regarding Senate Bill 59 that is now before the Senate Education Committee. I fully support the premise of the legislation, yet I am also concerned that the language is not specific enough as it refers to ORC 149.43 and the requirement of Community Schools to be accountable and transparent to the public for producing public records. It has been well-documented in Ohio that these private for-profit companies, such as White Hat Management, have flaunted the law and continue to hide the records documenting the spending of public tax dollars. A recent article on Huffington Post explains how they hide the records as “trade secrets” or “proprietary information” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-cohen/how-government-contractors-hide-public-information_b_6859424.html).
The ECOT charter school actually requires all employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement (Policy 109.5) as a condition of employment that prevents them from discussing things related to their work — a policy that no other PUBLIC SCHOOL in the state could get away with under Ohio’s Sunshine Laws (http://www.plunderbund.com/2015/03/21/will-the-sun-ever-shine-on-charter-school-spending/).
I would urge you to push for more stringent language to amend SB59 to hold Ohio’s Community Schools and contracted vendors who are receiving the bulk of this educational funding to the same Sunshine Law Requirements that Ohio’s public school districts must adhere to so that the public can truly understand how these entities are operating and how our valuable taxpayer dollars are being spent.