Up with this we must not put, dear Ohioans. One-party rule in the Buckeye State is despoiling public education with profit-driven cronyism, fraud, abuse, and corruption. Whistleblowers are falling victim to intimidation and retribution. All avenues of redress are being systematically sabotaged.
Where to begin?
Plunderbund broke a story this week showing that a charter school operation owned by one of Ohio’s biggest Republican donors has been failing standards and retaliating against would-be whistleblowers while Hoovering up $100 million in state government contracts, according to a study out of Ohio State University.
Even worse, the study was conducted as an investigation into whether the employees who were victimized could get whistle-blower status for their claims. And the conclusion was depressing: probably, but since all of the employees report to the Ohio Board of Regents, comprised of appointees from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, it’s hard to tell.
Documents obtained by Plunderbund show that a company owned by one of Ohio’s largest charter school operators is failing to deliver on a major contract with the state. The documents also indicate that former employees of the company, now supervising the project for the state, likely retaliated against public employees who questioned the company’s failures. The company’s owner, William Lager, of IQ Innovations, is one of the biggest Republican political donors in Ohio…
Meanwhile, Lager has received over $100 million dollars in state funding for his “education” companies.
A quick comparison of the bill that authorized the latest Ohio education boondoggle, along with political contribution data from the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, reveals that fifteen sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill have received contributions from Bill Lager, including then-Speaker Bill Batchelder, Jim Buchy, Cheryl Grossman, Mike Duffey, Kevin Bacon, Mike Dovilla, Lou Blessing, Chris Widener, Jeff McClain, Tom Niehaus, Senate President Keith Faber, SB-5 Sponsor Shannon Jones, Frank LaRose, Gerald Stebelton and Dave Burke.
Oh, and Batchelder, the long-time Speaker of the House? He is now a lobbyist for IQ Innovations.
They are flaunting their corruption, Ohio. This is the same group that has passed massive cuts to public education while funneling taxpayer money toward these for-profit scams.
In June, the Washington Post noticed, calling charter schools in Ohio “a mess” and noting that “academic results across the sector are far worse than in traditional public schools and financial and ethical scandals are more than common.”
This spring, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a story showing how Ohio charter schools have become a joke nationally.
Ohio’s $1 Billion charter school system was the butt of jokes at a conference for reporters on school choice in Denver, as well as the target of sharp criticism of charter school failures across the state.
The shots came from expected critics like teachers unions, but also from pro-charter voices, as the state considers ways to improve how it handles charters.
Ohio has about 123,000 kids attending nearly 400 charter schools – public schools that receive state tax money, but which are privately run.
Meanwhile, David Hansen, the husband of Kasich’s current U.S. Presidential campaign manager and former chief of staff Beth Hansen, resigned in disgrace this summer from his job as the Ohio Department of Education’s official responsible for charter schools. Hansen admitted he omitted “F” grades received on state evaluations by authorizing organizations of online and dropout recovery schools.
The Ohio legislature and the Kasich administration have now put forward state charter reform measures, but as long as they’re giving away ten on the dollar in taxpayer money for personal campaign contributions, I’m not filled with hope for substantial reform.
The fact is that Big Biz marked American public education as a $500 billion a year opportunity for profiteering some time ago.
In 2011, News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch suddenly took an interest in public education’s poverty achievement gap. Had the Grinch’s heart grown three sizes that day? No, his eyes did, with big bulging dollar signs. As Mother Jones reported, Murdoch “said that he sees the American education sector as a $500 billion market that’s largely been untapped by companies like his.”
Public education is not a playground of profiteering for hucksters like Bill Lager and Rupert Murdoch. Public education is our past and it is our future. It is under attack, and Ohio’s one-party Republican rule has rendered it most vulnerable, selling it out to their golfing buddy campaign donors.
When I was in fifth grade, my public school teacher read us Edgar Allan Poe and Huckleberry Finn. We learned wood-carving, and created our own self-sustaining eco-systems in 2-liter bottles. They are some of the most memorable lessons of my primary education and today they would be impossible.
Public schoolteachers are so busy teaching to mandatory tests and attempting to meet arbitrary standards that they never have the time for this type of creativity in the classroom. Administrators are so busy meeting evaluation requirements they lose time they could spend shaping a thriving school community.
We have all the empirical evidence to prove that the way to address the poverty achievement gap is through best practices: early childhood education; a well-rounded school experience including culture, sport, and the arts; extra-curricular activities that give students a sense of purpose; community schools; cooperative learning. But these are the first things money-strapped districts are forced to cut.
It would seem obvious that the act of educating is an art. It demands creativity, compassion, inspiration, personalization, and dedication. It is meant to stimulate a desire in students to be a life-long learner, a capacity for critical thinking, a reverence for the power of knowledge.
But Ohio’s Republican politicians have rigged the game to dismantle any opportunity for these things. They’ve stolen the joy of education not only from the students, but the teachers. And they’re doing it so they can claim public schools are failing, so they can funnel public resources to their fat cat country club friends.
Public education is not failing. Our state Republican leaders are failing public education. They have no vision of the wonderful resource our school districts can be when we invest in them, when we support them, when we encourage them to be creative, and when we give them the opportunity to thrive.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.