At the end of the legislative session, as Ohio Republican stalwarts honored their marching orders from the party’s corporate friends and benefactors, there was one message from the spirit world they should have been familiar with – and heeded.

There you go again.

When the smoke – or was it more like a mushroom cloud – cleared enough to allow Ohio citizens to see the new damage inflicted by its legislature in the form of bailouts for both the nuclear plant and charter school industries, savvy Republican watchers thought that the words of another member of the spirit world were appropriate to remember.

 

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” the sage Mark Twain observed more than a century ago. We could add being safe from both fallout and bailout in our legislative postmortem.

The challenges facing aging nuclear – and coal – power plants and how that might be reflected in public policy which adequately promotes renewable energy sources, deserve to be the subject of a thoughtful discussion on these and other pages at a later date. However,  Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is one aptly named group in place to oppose the nuke bailout.

With that group, there is now proof that the chain reaction to nuclear and other bailouts has started.

But in the case of charters which, like nukes, have proven to be high maintenance objects, the most apt words to describe the new charter school closure requirements come not from Samuel Clemens, but from a revered Republican saint who famously said:

There you go again.

Indeed, from the wake of the state budget imbroglio, where negotiations among Republican factions dragged into the new fiscal year, one wonders if the ghostly voice of Saint Ronald Reagan could be heard reverberating across the rotunda and down the marble corridors inside the stately wind tunnel on High Street in Columbus.

Those nearby could almost hear that spectral refrain, a spot-on commentary about the actions of the Ohio Republican Party to bailout failing charter schools scheduled to close.

There you go again was the clear message emitted from the presence.

Tom Toles, Washington Post

A close look at the eleventh-hour legislative changes in Ohio might confirm that Mark Twain and Saint Ronald knew what they were talking about when it comes to state legislative politics. But the puzzle for some is that we are still waiting for the appearance of a group, another kind of chain reaction that should be called Ohioans Against Corporate Charter Bailouts.

Any takers on that name for a new statewide charter watchdog group?

Just two weeks ago, Plunderbund observed that when you look at Ohio Republicans, it’s always about guns, charter schools, and deregulation. And when it comes to topics that are centered in the gun, charter, and now utility sphere, the devil is not only in the details but in the finest of fine print.

A recent story in the Columbus Dispatch confirmed what Buckeye citizens already know about that subject:

Ohio lawmakers have eased the rules for closing charter schools with bad grades, saving up to 52 from risk of closure.

Tucked into the just-passed state budget was a provision expected to reduce the number of the privately operated tax-funded schools subject to automatic closure.

The legislature eliminated a rule that forces a charter school with an overall “F” grade on its state report card for two of the prior three years to shut down. Now, schools must perform poorly for three consecutive years before being closed.

Rules. Regulations. Such pesty things like rules get in the way of absolute, dogmatic Republican action with their governance style. Count on it.

Ease the rules. Better yet, change the rules. Deregulation. Above all else, protect, preserve, and promote charters.

And if the subject is charter schools and anything that might cause them harm, Republicans, always guests at the banquet provided by their charter school industry friends and contributors, will always do what is expected. After all, when four Ohio legislators participated several years ago in subsidized international travel sponsored by a foundation linked to the Gulen organization, one of the nation’s largest charter school operations, it was evident that junkets help to build long-term bonds with national charter chains.

There is a sad story to relate here. When first proposed thirty years ago by Albert Shanker, a legendary labor leader and the longtime head of the American Federation of Teachers, charters were envisioned to be centers of innovation and creativity, and where teachers were the leaders, empowered to create the climate for learning and collaboration and central to the school design. But the reality today is that in too many cases, charters are mere branches of cookie cutter for-profit national chains.

So much for creativity in a currency-centered cookie cutter charter world.

As someone who formerly worked in the state charter school office and reviewed scores of charter contracts for legal sufficiency, there is nothing creative about most of these schools which were supposedly established to offer choice, an alternative to local public schools. The fact that they were defined in law as “failing” and thus subject to “closure” makes you think again about the topic of creative enterprises.

That was once upon a time … and you can leave Hollywood out of the title.

But maybe there is something creative with these schools after all.

Their names. Thus the question: what’s in a charter school name?

Of the 52 schools that were saved by Republicans from closure, at least thirty contain the words “academy” or “preparatory” school in their titles.

That’s a problem – for names offer clues to their identity, management, and ownership.

In 2015, Plunderbund looked at the subject of charter school names and offered this observation, based on charter schools that were operating at that time:

Most of us remember growing up and attending schools in places with names that reflected the history and ideals of our republic. It should come as no surprise that the most common names for our public or common schools are Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin (as in Benjamin), and Roosevelt (as in FDR and TR), as well as points on the compass.

That same article made this point which is central to the purposes for public education:

… Schools demonstrate a community’s reverence for the individuals that shaped our culture through their literary and musical work as well as civic engagement.

The very lack of community identity in the titles for so many of these preparatory/academy schools says it all about charters.

In too many instances, these schools were created through contracts that were sorry examples of copy-paste methods, and my reviews found contracts for several schools using the name of another school – also part of the cookie cutter chain – embedded in the agreement.

In June, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer identified the schools that were subject to closure and provided a hint that the “closure law could be weakened.” That reporting proved to be quite accurate.

Soon after the passage of the budget bill and the revelation about yet another change in the charter school closure law, a Columbus Dispatch reader demonstrated that he was in no way fooled by the legislature’s three-card Monte charter closure rule game that will keep these failing schools in business.

Deja vu again? Legislators evidently learned nothing from the ECOT (and others) charter school financial fiasco as they once again have created easier “rules” for charters to continue being funded while failing many of our state’s students.

Rules? What rules? Closure laws? What version of closure laws? No, with legislators there is nothing to learn, but only one thing to remember: take care of charter schools.

As Ohio residents flock to the state fair in the coming days and look at the familiar butter cow exhibit, they should also remember the charter cash cow that helps the Republican legislature with campaign donations.

For years, the state GOP and its candidates could rely on the cash cow supplied by David Brennan and his White Hat chain as well as William Lager’s behemoth ECOT operation. Most notably, ECOT reliably fueled Rep. Andrew Brenner during his tenure as Chair of the House Education Committee.

Image from Vote Smart: https://votesmart.org/candidate/campaign-finance/120481/andrew-brenner#.WmTUn0xFyU

But the ECOT cash cow is now dead, and the White Hat chain has been sold off. Moreover, David Brennan, one of the original players in Ohio charter world, died last year.

When you put those facts together, you can understand the reasoning among Republican legislators. With White Hat and ECOT gone, all the more reason to maintain a pipeline to the national charter chains. Why in the world would you shut down 52 charter schools when they all represent potential contributors to the state GOP, a la Brennan and Lager?

We can now look forward to another spectacle in September, as Mark Twain would remind us, because the legislature will be back from their recess, and the GOP wrecking crew has more work to accomplish.

Yes, the Republicans have changed the rules yet again and saved nearly 20% of existing Ohio charters from closure. Now, without distraction, they can turn their efforts to further wrecking public education with amendments to HB 70 and accompanying Academic Distress Commissions with something called the Ohio School Transformation Plan.

But there is never any transformative result with a state takeover, and the distress caused by HB 70 in districts like Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland has been felt across the state, as ten more urban districts are scheduled for takeover treatment during the coming year.

“Make no mistake, the Ohio School Transformation Plan is still a state takeover,” Jan Resseger, a public education expert and blogger, wrote recently.

The learning for Ohio residents vitally interested in public education is simple. Public schools, particularly those in urban districts, face enormous obstacles for providing an appropriate public education in the face of families challenged by poverty and unemployment while their own resources are stretched to the limits. And the result: blame the teachers, administrators, and locally elected school boards. Scapegoat. Change the name from distress to transformation.

In the meantime, give charter schools a pass. Besides, they’ve been cash cows for political contributions and junkets in the past.

So Republicans, there you go again. It’s time to stop your scapegoating and bailout game. We’re on to you.

 

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