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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ohio Auditor: Charters have far fewer students than state pays them to educate

In a disturbing new report from State Auditor David Yost, officials found that at one Ohio charter school, the state was paying the school to educate about 160 students, yet none, that's right, zero, were actually at the school.

And that's just the worst of a really chilling report, which, if the results are extrapolated across the life of the Ohio charter school program, means taxpayers have paid more than $2 billion for kids to be educated in charter schools who weren't even there.

Here are the takeaways:

  • Seven of 30 schools had headcounts more than two standard deviations below the amount the school told the state it had.
  • Nine of 30 schools that had headcounts at least 10% below what the charter told the state it had, though it was less than two standard deviations.
  • The remaining 14 had headcounts that weren't off by as much.
  • However, 27 of 30 schools had fewer students at the school than they were being paid to educate by the state
This means that more than 1/2 of all the charter schools chosen at random had significantly fewer students attending their schools than the state was paying them to educate, while 90% had at least some fewer amount. 

This is a big deal because charter schools are paid out of state revenue originally intended for school districts. If that money isn't actually educating those students, then the children in the local districts are being hurt twice -- once because they have significantly less state revenue anyway due to the charter school deduction, then again because the money is going to a school that isn't even educating those students.

Yost came up with several recommendations, including more frequent counts, better reporting and practices that allow sponsors and the state to better flag potential issues. But the point is this: We've had charters for 16 years in Ohio. We've spent now about $8.3 billion on them (through the first January payment report). If the headcounts have been as off as they were during this random audit, which was an average of 28%, during the life of the charter school program, then we've paid $2.3 billion for kids that weren't even in the charter schools. I'm not saying that's how much has been spent, but it tells you something of the scale of Yost's results. 

And remember this audit came during the height of what has been an unprecedented level of charter school scrutiny in this state, so you would think charters would be minding even more Ps and Qs than usual.

Kudos to Yost for doing this much needed work. Now it's up the legislature to fix this before any more tax dollars are wasted.