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Monday, March 31, 2014

White Hat Exemplifies Ohio Charter Issues

The Akron Beacon Journal is really just blowing the lid off the whole Ohio Charter School scheme, as it was envisioned by those who created it 16 years ago. In its latest installment, the paper speaks with board members at schools run by the infamous White Hat Management.

White Hat Management is run by David Brennan. Since 1998, schools operated by the for-profit White Hat Management have collected $1.07 billion in state revenue. That represents about 15% of all the $7.3 billion that has been sent to Ohio Charter Schools since their inception. White Hat has collected about one out of every seven dollars sent to Ohio Charter Schools. Meanwhile, White Hat Management (mainly through David and Ann Brennan) has sent more than $2.7 million to Republican politicians and campaigns since 1998.

To all my readers outside Ohio, this arrangement is exactly why Ohio's Charter School operations have ended up being a cynical ploy in far too many instances. The core of the issue is this: the for-profit management companies (like White Hat) get 97% of the taxpayer money that's sent to the "non-profit" Charter School, yet neither the State Auditor, nor the Ohio Department of Education can find out how White Hat spends that money.

A recent court case in Columbus ruled that Ohio Charter School Boards can find out how the money was spent, but the public (whose money it is, after all) still cannot. And, oh, by the way, if the for-profit company doesn't like the board nosing through their operations, as the Beacon Journal put it: "state law allows private companies to throw out nonprofit boards that challenge them."

Can folks outside Ohio finally recognize that this is a horrible arrangement in which to try educating kids? Does anyone think, "Yeah, you know I think it's a great idea to have one person collect one out of every 7 taxpayer dollars we spend on this without any way of finding out how that money was ultimately spent, and if folks do get interested, the company can just replace them. Yeah, that'll give kids better educational experiences."

Perhaps this is why White Hat schools are among the very worst performing schools in the state. Life Skills Academies -- White Hat's dropout recovery arm -- graduates an average of about 6.6% of its kids. The average non-Life Skills dropout recovery Charter graduates 27.3% of its kids. The average non-Life Skills Dropout Recovery Charter School has a 53.6% proficiency rate. The average Life Skills? 35.4%. But don't worry, White Hat will be able to keep running their "schools" just fine.

That's because in the state's new Dropout Recovery "standards", a huge exception was granted for Dropout Recovery Schools. If their graduation and proficiency rates improve by 10% a year for two years, they get to remain open. So Life Skills just needs to improve their graduation rate to 8% and their proficiency rate to about 42%, they can stay open. Want some real outrage? Look at Life Skills Columbus North. Their proficiency rate is 8% and their graduation rate is 6%. So if they improve to about a 10% proficiency rate and a little more than 7% graduation rate, they be considered to "meet standards" by the state.

Does anyone think that a school that graduates 7% of its kids, barely 10% of whom are proficient, is really educating anyone?

Do you see now, dear non-Ohio reader, why Ohio Charter Schools are generally such a disaster?

It is frankly a miracle that any Charters in Ohio are successful. But there are a few that do actually provide excellent educational experiences for children. However, far, far, far fewer taxpayer dollars find their way into these schools' coffers. Meanwhile, Mr. Brennan has received one third as much taxpayer money as Delaware spends statewide in a year.

And the taxpayers whose money it is cannot even find out how that money has been spent.

Because the state made it that way.