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Friday, July 17, 2015

New Ohio Charter School "Sheriff" Breaking the Law?

In yet another black eye for Ohio's struggling charter school sector, it appears that the man who is supposed to oversee charter schools arbitrarily -- and potentially illegally -- decided not to count the worst scores of the state's embarrassingly poor performing virtual schools when evaluating the state's sponsors (authorizers in all other states).

After the State School Board grilled David J. Hansen (who used to run the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Studies and is the husband of Presidential Candidate John Kasich's chief of staff) this week, the department announced earlier today it was retracting the evaluations.

Is it an accident that Hansen decided to exempt the worst scores of schools run by the state's largest political donors?

And how does this jibe with the reputation Hansen had been trying to burnish as the state's new Charter School Sheriff?

And should Kasich be concerned that someone so close to him might be getting into serious trouble just days before his big announcement?

As I've stated before in this space, Hansen's "crack down" had yet to impress me because it only impacted a few charters that didn't have many kids. When the state's largest charter school and nation's largest for-profit school -- the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- gets all Fs and a D on the state report card, yet Hansen doesn't scold them, but instead decides not to count that abysmal record (which is even worse than Youngstown City Schools -- the district that's in such bad shape that the state had to take them over in a back room, last-minute effort), it speaks louder to me than taking down a few tiny schools.

Hansen always was dealing with the charter sector's weaker sisters -- small sponsors and schools with no political clout -- a far cry from the huge clout carried by the for-profit operators.

This episode also speaks to the importance of public transparency and accountability. A publicly elected (and partially appointed) body demanded answers of public officials, who then had to answer them in public, revealing potentially illegal activity that even Ohio Auditor David Yost said bore an eerie resemblance to the data scrubbing scandal that threw Columbus City Schools into the frying pan a few years ago.

Because a public body did its job and held public officials accountable, this potentially illegal activity was uncovered. Remember that as the Youngstown City Schools are turned over to an unelected board and CEO. Who knows what the public will be able to find out there. I mean, Youngstown is not exactly known for being free of public corruption.

Once again, Ohio's charter school system and the state's woeful oversight of the sector are cause for national ridicule. At what point will Ohio's leaders say, "Enough is enough"? I'm so sick of having to write about this stuff. How many backward steps must we take before we'll take one forward?

It's time to fix this so we can move on to the serious work of making Ohio's public schools work for every child in every community. We need the meaningful charter school reform in House Bill 2, as well as better closure and funding mechanisms.

The first thing we have to do, though, is make sure no foxes guard our hen houses.

First things first.