Back in June, 2000, the Beacon Journal printed an excerpt from a not very subtle letter by Akron businessman David Brennan to Ohio lawmakers. It came directly to the point of a leading Republican contributor interested, as always, in profiling his potential recipients who were meekly laboring in the Capitol’s back rooms:
“Enclosed is a questionnaire that addresses education, economic competitiveness, and civil justice issues. Though you will receive – and likely already have received – other questionnaires, I trust you will take the time to complete and return this one. We are prepared to use responses to act on our interest in issues that impact state government. Thank you, in advance for completing and returning this questionnaire in the enclosed envelope and for sharing your views on these important issues.”
By then, Brennan, a boastful self-asserting “futurist”, was well on his way to restructuring the education of school kids in a way that would earn him hundreds of millions of dollars in public money. From recurring published reports, a billion dollars for charter school state funding sounds about right. As early as 2007, the Plain Dealer reported that Brennan and his wife had given $733,300 to state candidates and GOP organizations, $400,000 to the Ohio Republican party!
Republican politicians, from the governor to House Speaker William Batchelder to the rural precincts, were not inclined to muddy up the track. Not with their sugar daddy’s purse on the table. Batchelder retired from the Ohio House this year and will put his political muscle to use as a lobbyist for a charter school organization. He’s also joined the faculties of the University of Akron and Cleveland State University.
If you find Brennan synonymous with White Hat Management, Inc., the private charter school company named after his wide-brimmed white hat, you would be absolutely right. And over the years, his feudal plan created the channels for enormous returns for a a publicly endowed private school system that is rated among the worst in the nation.
On Sunday, the Beacon Journal’s astute education writer , Doug Livingston, took up the travesty once again under the headline “Charter schools misspend millions in Ohio”.
Braced with figures from State Auditor Dave Yost’s team, Livingston topped his report with a telling opening paragraph:
“No sector – not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals – misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio'”
Based on the writer’s review of 4,263 audits by the state auditor, the money was misspent “four times more often than any other type of taxpayer agency.” Say, $27.3 million. There are some other for-profit charter organizations in Ohio, but none with the commanding scope of White Hat’s influence
Although Yost is committed to cleaning up the gore, he’s fighting a losing battle. The size and reach of the charter system has grown so large that he doesn’t have a staff that’s big enough to cover all of it.
Some of the audits now are by private auditors, and there’s a catch. Livingston reported that these audits found misspending in one of 200 audits, while Yost’s audits turned up the problem in one of six.
Although Gov. Kasich says he wants more accountability for the for-profit charters, his latest proposed budget actually increases their state funds. So the deck of greenbacks is stacked against any meaningful change from the top down.
Small wonder that in national education circles the Ohio charter system is laughingly described as the “Wild, Wild West.” Unfortunately, not a laugher in the Buckeye State.