For devotees of social media, Facebook is a great place to view thousands of cat videos, faded high school prom photos and snapshots from someone’s last vacation. And everything else imaginable.
But one recent post had nothing to do with cats. Or proms. Or for that matter, someone’s recent trip to Myrtle Beach. Instead, three short sentences written on Facebook in early June by GOP Rep. Andrew Brenner of Delaware County speak volumes about what is wrong with public education policy in Ohio.
“I attended the ECOT graduation today. Cliff Rosenberger was the keynote speaker. It was impressive.”
Never mind that the New York Times reported in May that “more students drop out of the Electronic Classroom or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country, according to federal data.”
Now that’s really impressive.
If Brenner could have added a fourth sentence, he might have identified Senator Bill Coley as the person who introduced the keynote speaker.
And if a fifth sentence could have been squeezed into Brenner’s terse post, it might have identified the founder and head of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s management, William Lager, as a mega contributor to the Ohio Republican Party.
Oh, and yes, Coley sits on the Finance Committee, where SB 298, a newly crafted measure to add safeguards to verify online charter school attendance for state reimbursement, a bill diverted from the Education Committee to dampen its prospects for passage, is moribund.
Moribund? Make that dead on arrival.
Another detail: Brenner is Chairman of the House Education Committee, where state policy for Ohio’s public school districts and charter schools is crafted.
Rosenberger is the Speaker of the House, who in the past was the recipient of a free junket to Turkey sponsored by the Gulen charter school chain. Gulen operates 19 charter schools in Ohio that are affiliated with the Gulen Movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish exile and Islamic cleric.
Politicians like Brenner tend to write in short sentences that lack detail and context. But unlike Brenner, let’s not be terse. Yes, details, details. So here is more detail to help you, gentle reader, fill in some blanks.
Brenner has said previously that “public education is socialism.” But if we follow the Chairman’s logic (hmm, I thought only well-known socialists and collectivists like Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev were referred to as Chairman), we find illogic, viz., the Chairman of the Education Committee seems very much opposed to public education.
But the illogic gets worse.
Profits generated from the public funds received by charter school operators like Lager and White Hat Management’s David Brennan flow to their favorite Republican politicians in the form of contributions. These profits, snared by privately operated management companies with hand-picked, unelected boards not subject to full public transparency and exempt from 150 sections of state law, ultimately wind their way to committee chairs in the legislature as well as more senior leadership in the House and Senate.
To Chairman Brenner, this is capitalism at work. And capitalism is the very opposite of socialism, right? Yes socialism, as evidenced by the operation of public school districts who raise their revenue from the taxation of local property and who are subject to full legal transparency and accountability, governed by a group of citizens elected by qualified voters in the community where they operate. These are community schools, the real public schools. Contrast that with charter schools, where, unlike public schools, there is no requirement for board members to be qualified voters, viz. citizens.
I wonder why Republicans aren’t in favor of requiring proof of citizenship for charter school board members, as they are for some voters. Hmmm.
Anyway, I’m relieved now to know the very clear difference between capitalism and socialism, thanks in part to Chairman Brenner. Snicker.
Brenner’s Facebook post about ECOT, Speaker Rosenberger and Finance Committee member Coley, reminded me of an interesting experience. Two years after retiring from the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, I was invited by a Democratic legislator to discuss some of my ideas for charter school reform. The legislator knew that I had first-hand knowledge of the many scandals in the charter school industry. After a discussion about the chronic issues faced by ODE in attempting to monitor the conflicted, profit-centered and ethically challenged charter school sector, I presented some materials about charter schools as well as a list of needed reforms.
When the legislator looked at my items, he nodded his head in agreement with all of my recommendations for revisions to Chapter 3314 of the Revised Code until he got to the very end of the list.
“This will never happen” he said, as he pointed to the Number One item on my charter school reform agenda: get the money out. No charter school profits derived from public funds can be conveyed to members of the legislature. He knew that my Top Ten Needed Charter School Reforms might have a small chance of passage someday – except for the very last item.
Dead on arrival.
When the Columbus Dispatch revealed on July 8 that ECOT filed a lawsuit to stop the Ohio Department of Education from conducting an audit of its student attendance, the significance of that meeting with the legislator several years ago was firmly connected in my mind to the significance of Brenner’s Facebook post.
Money. Money. Money.
As the realization of ECOT’s action to stop the impending state audit by unleashing attorneys and lobbyists paid with the school’s profits from state funds to do battle at the Statehouse, in the media, and yes – social media, I was reminded of the deeply troubled Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, maddened by too many battles. The colonel says it best in this classic scene: the horror, the horror.
Yes, suspicions confirmed. As the infamous former congressman Ozzie Myers of Abscam fame put it, “money talks and bullshit walks.”
Public money. Public money. Public money – for private purposes.
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.