COLUMBUS – The U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program will soon grant $71 million for charter schools in Ohio, and in light of recent controversy in the state there’s a push to ensure the money doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Researchers at Stanford University found Ohio charter schools perform significantly worse than public schools, and the head of the state’s charter school accountability office resigned this summer after fudging rating data for the schools.
The advocacy group Progress Ohio is among the organizations calling for better accountability and oversight.
“We are now a national laughing stock,” maintains Sandy Theis, Progress Ohio’s executive director. “We are famous for having charter schools that are chronically underperforming but continue to get more state money.
“The challenge we face now is to make sure that the schools that don’t deserve the money don’t get the money.”
A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy found that of the 88 Ohio charter schools created under federal grants between 2008 and 2013, nearly two dozen either never opened or closed within a few years.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, both Ohio Democrats, announced plans for legislation that would strengthen oversight of federal charter school funds.
Of particular concern, says Theis, are the 17 Concept Schools in Ohio. She says former teachers testified before the state that they witnessed test tampering, and some educators teaching without proper certification.
“After those teachers testified the Dayton Daily News did an expose’ on the Concept Schools and they found a student who went on the record and said he was actually paid to cheat for some of his fellow students,” she states. “They paid him in cash and pizza.”
Concept charters are affiliated with the Gulen movement, a transnational religious and social movement that operates 148 charters in 26 states.
Theis says many of those schools face similar questions regarding accountability and transparency.
The FBI raided 19 of the schools, including three in Ohio, in 2014 as part of a federal investigation.
Gov. John Kasich says he’ll sign a recently passed charter school reform law that’s expected to increase transparency.
Theis says if implemented properly, the law could sort out which charter schools are worth keeping around.
“The good charter school people want change because this is hurting their brand,” she states. “But the bad charter school associations continue to be apologists for the bad eggs and won’t even acknowledge there is a problem,”