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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Thanksgiving Wish for Everyone...


Here is my Thanksgiving wish for everyone. It's possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together and say respectful things to one another. I pray we can reach that point again. Soon.

Ohio's Largest Campaign Finance Violator named Trump's Education Secretary

Well, this is something. Amway Billionaire Betsy DeVos was named as Donald Trump's Education Secretary choice today.


DeVos has a bad history here in Ohio. In 2006, she allowed David Brennan to launder campaign cash through her All Children Matter PAC. That led to the largest fine ever levied against a candidate or PAC by the Ohio Elections Commission -- $5.2 million. By all accounts, that fine was larger than all fines put together.

DeVos is an avowed school choice champion. She has been politically active to elect pro-school choice candidates around the country. And there is little question she would continue to push for more vouchers and charter schools as Secretary.

However, there's not a great track record with federal charter school investment. Just in Ohio, we found that about 1/3 of all the money sent to grow high-quality charters went to charters that closed shortly after receiving the federal funding, or never opened in the first place.

In all other federal grant programs, only 2% of the entities failed or failed to open.

I hope DeVos is focused on quality rather than choice for choice's sake. But combining this news with the crazy, unwarranted and clearly politically motivated attacks against state Sen. Peggy Lehner and her family (which will be the subject of a standalone post form me later), one starts to think that perhaps the quality-based choice advocates are about to be crushed.

And that would be terrible for our nation's kids.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Happens if Trump Blows Up USDOE? Folks in Trump Country get Hammered.

Now that we have to contend with a President Trump, I thought it might be useful to look at one of his only concrete policy proposals: Eliminating the U.S. Department of Education and replacing the funding with a voucher program.

Killing off the USDOE has long been a dream of the conservative movement, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry remembering he wanted to eliminate it, even as he famously stumbled over the other agencies he wanted to whack.

But what would this mean for local communities? What would it mean for Ohio's school districts?

Well, it would not be good if federal funding disappeared. Every district in Ohio but 5 received federal funding last year. The largest recipients are urban districts. But the most disproportionately impacted are the poor, white, rural districts in communities that overwhelmingly voted for President Trump.

That's because they have the least amount of local tax revenue to make up for the lost federal funding, and they have among the lowest incomes in the state. Below, you will see the top 25 Ohio School Districts that would need to have residents sacrifice the largest percentages of their incomes to pay for lost federal revenue. While Youngstown, Warren and East Cleveland are the top 3, about 1/2 are from the rural, red counties that overwhelmingly put a guy in office who would force them to consider serious income tax increases to keep their schools going. The districts best able to withstand a federal funding loss? You guessed it -- the state's wealthy, suburban districts.

Overall, Ohio school districts received $1.5 billion in federal funding last year, which would force districts to seek an overall property tax increase of about $220 per $100,000 home.

While I have certainly disagreed with federal education policy, especially when it comes to some of the competitive funding it's come to be defined by, Title I, IDEA and other federal programs have sought to bring equity and adequacy to our nation's most struggling schools. The evidence that these programs help kids is pretty clear.

Will Trump eliminate these programs that improve kids lives while keeping property taxes down in communities that can least afford to raise them? We'll see.

But elections have consequences. And if one of this election's consequence is the elimination of federal education funding, it appears that those who made Trump president will suffer among the worst outcomes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ohio Charter School Sponsor Ratings: School Districts have Highest Academic Achievement

While I have concerns with how the overall grades are being calculated in Ohio's new charter school sponsorship ratings, there's something really interesting happening in the area that is most important in my mind -- academic performance.

Try this: The only recipients of an A, B, or C in academic performance are school districts and Educational Service Centers. While it is also true that these public entities sponsor far fewer charter schools, the performance shouldn't be overlooked.

It appears that the more charters you sponsor, the worse your rating. Which isn't surprising, given Ohio's overall poor performing charter sector.

But it should be made clear that the 33 charter school sponsors that receive As, Bs and Cs on academic performance are all public entities.

Equally telling?

All 33 are rated ineffective or poor. Which means the state would say that the 33 highest rated charter school sponsors in academic performance would be banned from opening new charters, or in the case of the poor rated sponsors, would have to immediately shut down.

I'm not sure that how the accountability system should work.

Ohio Sponsorship Ratings: It Pays to be a Bureaucrat

The new Charter School Sponsor ratings are out, and there are a ton of poorly rated sponsors in Ohio -- a result nearly everyone foretold.

However, one of my concerns about the new system, which the historic House Bill 2 instituted, has come to fruition, though not as dramatically as I thought it might.

The new system called for sponsors to be graded in three, equally weighted areas: Adherence to quality practices, as outlined by industry standards, compliance with current law and rules, and academic performance. If they rated poorly, they wouldn't be allowed to sponsor schools anymore. If they were deemed "ineffective," they wouldn't be able to sponsor any new schools.

My concern had been that if the sponsor was great at dotting i's and crossing t's, they would be able to get away with lousy academic performance. If you get two As and an F, that's a B- average. So my concern was sponsors with poorly performing schools could remain as sponsors simply because they could jump through the other two bureaucratic hoops.

The new data indicate that is happening in some cases. And in others, sponsors with great academic performance are being deemed ineffective because they don't follow the bureaucratic process -- an equally concerning outcome in my view.

For example, the only 5 sponsors to receive an effective rating -- the highest given this year (there is an exemplary rating that no sponsor reached) -- all received Ds on their academic performance. But they made sure that they dotted their i's and crossed their t's. So they got the highest rating.

One of those -- St. Aloysius Orphanage -- has been banned from opening new schools in Cleveland because of their schools' awful academic track record there. It's not a good look for the state to say a sponsor is among the state's best while the state's second-largest district has banned it from operating. Again, if the academic portion were weighted 50% and the other two at 25% each, then that problem wouldn't be as great.

And on the other hand, there are 8 sponsors with As for academic rating -- 7 of these sponsors are school districts; one is an Educational Service Center. Yet all are rated as ineffective or poor, overall, because they aren't meeting the industry developed quality standards.

Does this system disproportionately harm school district sponsors? I think it's a question that needs asked. It certainly appears that charter sponsors aren't being rewarded enough for good academic performance -- which is, let's face it, the most important aspect of a sponsor's job -- or punished enough for poor academic performance.

But am I glad that sponsors are finally being rated? Yes. It's a positive step. But there are serious concerns with the current calculation that lead to incongruities that need addressed. I hope the state takes up these concerns and fixes them quickly.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Taxpayers, Kids Win. Ecot Loses Lawsuit. May Have to Repay $60 million.

Three years ago, I met with a group of folks concerned about the state of Ohio's charter schools. The group included members of the traditional public school and charter school advocacy world. During the part of the discussion when we tried to identify the biggest problems with charter schools, eSchools came up. But within minutes, the group shot down the idea of going after eSchools. That's because the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow's William Lager had grown so powerful, thanks to his significant campaign contributions. After all, Gov,. John Kasich had recently spoken at ECOT's graduation.

Lager had said while introducing Kasich at that commencement that "you will find no leader more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich."

"We'll never get anywhere," I remember someone saying about trying to take on eSchools. I didn't think much differently. Going after ECOT seemed an insurmountable political hurdle.

No more.

Word came out a few minutes ago that ECOT's lawsuit has failed. The school, which claimed to be the nation's largest, now may have to repay Ohio taxpayers more than $60 million of the $109 million it received last year because the state determined ECOT could only verify it had 40 percent of the 15,000 plus kids it claimed. The state still pays ECOT so much per pupil that even with this cut(and including all of its revenue streams), ECOT can still clear as much as 22 percent profit after paying all of its staff.

Now I know ECOT will use every maneuver to overturn this ruling from Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French. There will be appeals.

But what a day this is for Ohio's kids and taxpayers.

Since Lager opened ECOT in 2001, Ohio's taxpayers have sent the school $903 million. If the state's recent determination that ECOT was overpaid by 60 percent last year were applied over the last 15 years, Ohio taxpayers have sent about $540 million for kids that ECOT never really had. That's a staggering figure. And it's not outrageous to make that assumption because ECOT was nailed by State Auditor Jim Petro during its first year of operation for the exact same thing.

And what have we received for that? Certainly not high-quality education. ECOT earned only Fs on the new state report card -- something it also achieved two years ago under the less difficult state report card regime.

But here's the outrageous data point: According to the New York Times, no school in the country failed to graduate more kids than ECOT. Not a single school.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of ECOT's failure, here are a few examples:

  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend all grades in the Norwalk school district.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend Bexley.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend 455 Ohio school districts
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend every school district in each of these Ohio counties: Vinton, Monroe, Carroll, Morgan, Harrison and Noble.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT to fill Community Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. or Cleveland Central Catholic's new stadium.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT that their number would rank among the nation's 200 largest high schools
It is criminal that a school this adept at failing has succeeded so richly at fleecing Ohio's taxpayers. You want to know why elections matter? This, my friends, is why.

I applaud the Ohio Department of Education for finally standing up to the bully. I applaud those in the legislature on both sides of the aisle to stood up for kids and against the adults who would fail them while robbing their parents blind. I applaud those pro-charter school reformers who stood up for quality choices for Ohio's kids rather than more bad ones like ECOT.

Most of all, I applaud the members of the media and advocates who have banged this ECOT drum for 15 years. And while for too many of those years the drum's beat was lost on the winds of political power, today it was heard.

Loud and clear.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ohio Senate Passes Bill that Could Close State Agencies En Masse. Gift to ECOT?

I'm not usually Conspiracy Guy. But when Senate Bill 329 -- a bill that would force state agencies to sunset every two years and would have to be renewed or closed then -- passed the Ohio Senate today, I started wondering, "Is this a gift to ECOT?"

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the nation's largest K-12 school run by huge political contributor William Lager that received all Fs on the state report card while failing to graduate more kids than Newark City Schools has students -- was hit this week by the Ohio Department of Education for only being about to account for 40% of the approximately 15,500 kids it was paid to educate last year.

ECOT has been embroiled in a contentious lawsuit with the Ohio Department of Education, who they claim is unfairly trying to find out if the $109 million the state paid them last year was actually justified.

Why do I think 329 has something to do with ECOT? First of all, the bill's sponsor is Bill Coley, yes, the same Bill Coley who almost cost Ohio's kids $71 million in federal funding meant to grow high quality charters because ODE submitted a rule 3 weeks late.

Is there a better warning shot fired across ODE's bow than a piece of legislation that threatens their very existence, unless Ohio legislators (who are the largest recipients of Mr. Lager's largess) say they can exist?

Again, I'm not Conspiracy Guy. But am I alone in thinking these dots seem awfully closely connected?