It may be too late for federal education regulators to recall the grant from last week of $71 million that went to Ohio for charter schools. The issue going forward for two of Ohio’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congressman Tim Ryan, is all about increasing accountability, transparency and community involvement in charter schools while helping to ensure a high-quality education for every child.

Sen. Brown was joined in a call to reporters on Wednesday by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13) to discuss their bicameral legislation that would bring new standards of performance for nearly 400 taxpayer-funded charter schools that educate approximately 123,000 students in the Buckeye State.

“Our children pay the price for the mismanagement of charter schools,” Brown said in prepared remarks following today’s call. “This bill would help ensure a high-quality education for every child. By including some of these measures in the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate already sent a strong, bipartisan message that all our schools need to be held accountable—it’s time for the House to follow suit.”

Ryan, who served with Brown before he was first elected to the Senate in 2006, said, “There is no doubt that Ohio’s current charter school system is a mess. Our children deserve better,” he said. Ryan made reference to the Charter School Accountability Act he introduced that would increase transparency and oversight of the U.S. charter school system, which includes the 123,000 Ohio students attending charter schools and their parents.

Mentioned in the past as a possible Democratic candidate for governor, Congressman Ryan said children securing an education they are owed shouldn’t be in doubt. “We must learn from the Ohio Department of Education’s [ODE] mistakes and ensure charter school programs around the country make student success their top priority.”

Simmering in the background is the on-going scandal in the ODE that involves data scrubbing by the husband of Gov. John Kasich’s campaign manager and former chief of staff, Beth Hansen. In July, David Hansen, the executive director of the ODE’s Office of Quality School Choice and the Office of Community Schools hired by the Kasich Administration, resigned after admitting to deliberately leaving out failing grades of online charter schools.

Notwithstanding these controversial allegations, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the ODE a $71 million dollar grant. The Brown-Ryan legislation would strengthen oversight of these funds in order to prevent fraud and abuse and to ensure that all children who attend a charter school receive the education they deserve.

In related news, some members of Ohio’s state school board are concerned that the grant money was obtained using false information on its application. At the most recent meeting of the panel, Stephanie Dodd, a critic of ODE and Mr. Hansen, who resigned over his actions and who Gov. Kasich has said little about on the campaign trail or in any other venue, voiced her concerns.

“So we knew that there was data that was incorrect before we even submitted this, yet we went ahead and submitted this, signed our names to it and said that the information that we presented was correct and accurate even though we knew that it was not,” according to one report.

Ann Jacobs, another state school board member, is upset about how this episode has been handled. Reports say she asked State Schools Superintendent Richard Ross several times to confirm whether or not the state made the decision to knowingly send in a false application. ODE, according to Dr. Ross, has spoken with the U.S. Department of Education, telling them about the data scrubbing problem after turning in it’s application.

While Superintendent Ross said his office plans to talk to Washington education officials soon regarding how the grant money will be awarded and what changes might need to be made, he made it clear to board members who want an independent investigation that that won’t happen. Playing it safe, in light of Gov. Kasich’s campaign to be the Republican nominee for president next year in order to avoid revelations that would both embarrass and endanger Mr. Kasich’s national dreams, ODE said it handed documents over to the inspector general and auditor and does not plan on seeking another outlet for investigation.

Brown and Ryan expressed their concerns that Ohio charter school students receive 43 fewer days of math instruction and 14 fewer days of reading instruction than traditional public schools, based on a report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

On the call today, Sen. Brown told reporters that key provisions of another bill he introduced in the Senate in July—Charter School Accountability Act—were included in a Senate-passed education reform bill. The bill, Every Child Achieves Act, reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Reauthorization Act.

Highlights of the Brown-Ryan ‘Charter School Accountability Act:’

  • Improve accountability by strengthening transparency and disclosure measures for charter schools. It would require both independent financial audits and public disclosures about important financial information, like charter documents, performance agreements between the school and its authorizer, the school’s program and mission, student discipline policies and processes, and annual student and teacher attrition rates. The bill also requires disaggregated data on information on disciplinary actions, student recruitment, admission, and retention.
  • Increase state educational agencies’ charter school accountability measures. The legislation would require that states have performance standards for charter school authorizers, data on charter school closures, denials of renewals, and canceled charters. States must also have the authority to suspend or revoke a charter school’s authorization based on poor performance or violating policies. Additionally, states must have clear conflict of interest laws for school employees and establish fiduciary duties for officers, directors, managers, and employees of charter schools.
  • Require charter schools to have parent and community buy-in. The legislation would ensure charter schools solicit and consider input from parents and community members on how to implement and operate charter schools. This bill also requires that entities receiving federal funds submit plans and descriptions detailing community and parent involvement in the planning, opening, and operation of charter schools. For traditional public schools applying to convert to charter school status, the bill requires that there is demonstrated support of the conversion by two-thirds of the families attending the school and two-thirds of the school staff. It also calls for charter school authorizers to provide impact statements and reports on the role charter schools have on the overall schools system and provide information on student enrollment trends.

The bill is supported by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

 

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