In downtown Columbus Thursday, a new study based on years worth of work shows millions of federal tax dollars intended for high-performing charter schools have actually gone to some of Ohio’s worst. More problematic was the news that many millions went to other charter schools that never even opened.
The federal government has sent more money to Ohio to expand “high-performing” charter schools than all but two other states, but Ohio spent millions on some of the lowest-performing schools. And nearly $4 million went to schools that never opened, according to a new analysis, a media release announcing “Belly Up” said.
The Ohio Charter School Accountability Project did the analysis to determine how a state with so many of America’s worst-performing charter schools could be in line for so much federal money intended to help the best ones.
Ohio’s education system has fallen from 5th under former Gov. Ted Strickland to 23rd under current Gov. John Kasich. It’s no secret that Ohio’s system of for-profit charter schools have earned the label of “The wild west.” Ohio ranks third nationally in total money received during the program’s 21-year history. During that time, the U.S. Department of Education did just one assessment of the grants’ success in Ohio. Although it raised serious questions about the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to properly distribute the money, nothing appears to have changed as a result.
Watch the presentation today:
Keep in mind that Gov. Kasich told a newspaper editorial board when he was running for president that reforms have solved the problem. The state board of education just appointed a new superintendent of education, the sixth one in five years. Whether Paolo DeMaria, who was assistant superintendent of education under former Gov. Robert Taft, has the political will to embrace the study’s results, then act on them against likely opposition from Republican legislators who enjoy hefty contributions from some charter school sponsors, who also happen to be among the worst players, is highly unlikely given Gov. Kasich’s mindset that reforms in place are sufficient.
From the release: “As Ohio takes steps to make charter school sponsors more accountable under the reform law passed last year, it’s important that policy makers understand the past,” said OEA President Becky Higgins. “Together with our colleagues at Innovation Ohio and ProgressOhio, we examined how these Charter School Program (CSP) grants have been awarded, and tried to identify the shortfalls along the way. Ohio cannot afford to waste money on failing charter schools. It needs to invest in the good ones.’’
Lead Democratic member of the House Education Committee State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today issued the following statement in response to reports that one-third of charter schools have closed or failed to even open after receiving $30 million in federal grants during the last decade:
“In no organization, public or private, is this abhorrent level of mismanagement and waste tolerated. But in Ohio it has not only been tolerated, but encouraged by state education officials who directed thirty million dollars over the last decade to charter schools that have closed or never even opened. By failing to hold charter schools to the same standards and expectations as traditional schools, the state is failing an entire generation of children who will not be able to earn the skills they need to succeed. State inaction has allowed charter schools to not only embezzle tax dollars, but to embezzle something more precious that cannot be measured or counted – the hopes and dreams of so many Ohio children and families.”
“Belly Up: A Review of Federal Charter School Grants” shows how state and federal education departments ignored warning signs, systemically wasted tax dollars and made learning more difficult for many Ohio students.
“Among the main findings:
“Of the 292 Ohio charter schools that have received federal CSP funding since 2006, 108 (37 percent) have closed or never opened, totaling nearly $30 million. Meanwhile, barely 2 percent of all companies nationwide that have received any federal grants or incentives since 2000 have failed.
“The Ohio tally includes 26 charter schools that received nearly $4 million in CSP funding but never opened. There are no records to indicate whether any of these public funds was returned.
“Ohio charters that received past CSP funding and State Report Card grades in the 2014-2015 school year had a median Performance Index score that was lower than all but 15 of Ohio’s 613 school districts.
“Since the federal grant program began 21 years ago, its lone assessment – conducted by WestEd – identified material weaknesses that appear to have been ignored by federal grant makers. In one instance, a potential grant reviewer even told the Ohio Department of Education that she was unqualified for the job and asked to be excluded from its reviewers’ list. Instead, the department thanked her for “agreeing to participate as a community school grant reader.”
“Paolo DeMaria, recently appointed Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction, was Associate Superintendent of Finance and School Options at the time WestEd raised concerns about Ohio’s processes for distributing the federal money to charter schools. ?Of the 44 Ohio charter schools where State Auditor David Yost conducted surprise attendance audits recently, 17 had received federal CSP funding. One of them – the London Academy – only had 10 of the 270 students ODE thought it had in attendance the day Yost’s investigators showed up. All told, these audited schools received about $6.6 million in federal funding.
Last September, federal officials stunned education experts by announcing that Ohio would receive $71 million in CSP grants – more “than any other state. Ohio’s large award came in spite of its reputation as one the worst charter states in the country, according to national charter advocates. The swift and severe criticism that followed prompted USDOE to put Ohio’s award on hold.
“We urge federal regulators to revamp the way in which it makes grants so that the money goes to the best performing charter schools,” said Innovation Ohio President Keary McCarthy. “The mistakes of the past should not be repeated in the awarding of future grants.”
“Those mistakes include giving millions to the state’s most notorious charter school scofflaws, including:
“Horizon Science Academies and Noble Academies: Total CSP Grants: 7.6 million Linked to a Muslim cleric exiled in Pennsylvania, the chain is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, and WikiLeaks revealed cables showing the U.S. State Department notified the CIA about suspicious visas for teachers and administrators. In June 2014, 19 of its schools were raided by the FBI, including four in Ohio. The Ohio schools also have been dogged by allegations of test-tampering, teachers using racial slurs in the classroom, unqualified teachers, sexual misconduct in the classroom. ODE investigated allegations raised by teachers who witnessed the problems but found no wrongdoing.
“Imagine Schools: Total CSP Grants: $5.9 million The chain has been under fire nationally for saddling schools with exorbitant leases paid to its subsidiary, SchoolHouse Finance. Imagine recently lost lawsuits in Indiana and Missouri over the same type of abusive leases seen in Ohio. A federal judge in Missouri ordered Imagine to pay $1 million and called the lease arrangement “self-dealing.’’ One of the chain’s worst-performing Ohio schools, Romig Road in Akron, is among the charters that closed – but received federal grant money. All of Imagine’s Ohio schools received a D or F on the most recent state report cards.
“White Hat Management: Total CSP Grants: $1.4 million Owner David Brennan has been the most powerful and influential of Ohio’s charter school operators since state money started flowing to them. Brennan’s schools also are routinely among the lowest performing. While Ohio’s historically lax regulations make it difficult to close even the worst schools, several of Brennan’s schools have been shut down for academic reasons or contractual non-compliance.
“Staffers for GOP state Auditor David Yost made surprise visits to charters to see if they are padding attendance records and concluded that White Hat’s dropout recovery schools were among the worst. It’s been well documented that ODE’s grant application for the $71 million was inaccurate and misleading, prompting state officials to revise the number of poor-performing charter schools in Ohio from six on its initial application to 57 – a tenfold increase. The author of the application, David Hansen, was forced to resign as head of ODE’s office of school choice and community schools after getting caught illegally cooking the state’s accountability system to benefit Ohio’s politically connected eSchool operators.
“It is unclear when or if federal regulators will release the $71 million. The Ohio Charter School Accountability Project is a joint venture of the Ohio Education Association, Innovation Ohio and ProgressOhio. OEA and IO host the website, knowyourcharter.com, which provides data from the Ohio Department of Education on how the state’s charter schools are faring compared to local public schools.”