Ohio's Charter Schools: Appendices
Barbara Brothers, PhD
July 15, 2013 firstname.lastname@example.org: Ohio charter school industry: $7.4 billion and counting. The second system of education, which feeds off the public common school system, started as a "harmless" $11 million experiment. This new system has parasitically extracted a total of $7.4 billion from the Ohio public common school system in 15 years as follows:
Between 40 and 50 percent of the $7.4 billion is local tax money passed by local voters for the support of their local school districts. … The Cost of Ohio’s School Choice Alternatives including Community schools, open enrollment, and vouchers is $5,703 per pupil; Community schools for special education is $7,223.90 to $30,126.69 per pupil; Autism Scholarship $20,000 and Jon Peterson Scholarship is $7,196 to $20,000 per pupil. The Local School District must transfer these amounts, leaving school districts with less money per pupil (William Phillis, Ohio E & A).
The Tallahassee News entitled its story on the State-Wide Study on School Choice by the League of Women Voters of Florida—"It’s Time for a New Accountability in American Education." They summed up the findings: "Whatever good charter schools might do 'their biggest contribution may be to corporate bottom lines.'" The Florida League study is available online and includes several recommendations: 1. Charters should be limited to those that fill unmet needs in identified local school districts; 2. Stronger local management oversight and disclosure policies are needed; 3. Financial mismanagement issues must be addressed, as too often the privatization of schools leads to financial abuse (See http://www.lwvglc.org/documents/lwvglc_paper_for_profit_virtual_charter_schools.pdf)
janresseger | August 14, 2014, reports: Being free from such court oversight to enforce the mandates of a state constitution appeals to Chad Readler, a Columbus, Ohio attorney who chairs Ohio's Constitutional Modernization Commission. Readler is also, according to Karen Kesler of StateImpact Ohio, the chairman of the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools. Kesler updates earlier reports that Readler's goal is to have the Constitutional Modernization Commission remove protection for school funding from Ohio's constitution by deleting this clause: "The General Assembly shall provide and fund a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state." Kesler interviews members of the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House serving on the Constitutional Modernization Commission who agree with Readler and want to remove the language that makes school funding justifiable in Ohio. They say they want the Ohio Constitution to protect school choice instead. Kesler also quotes Charlie Wilson, a professor at the College of Law at The Ohio State University, who "fears if that language is removed, there would be no right to public education in Ohio, because the U.S. Supreme court has already held that education is not a federal fundamental right and has left it to the states."
Abuses and areas of concern documented in a report by Policy Matters of Ohio in 2010 include the following: A charter school chain has violated state law that limits individuals to service on two school boards and prohibits the relatives of management company owners or employees from serving on charter boards; the same schools are part of a vertically integrated system in which the same individual has served in a variety of capacities, including founder, CEO, and president, for the sponsor, two management organizations, and the schools themselves.
The heavy hand of management organizations in running schools is evidenced by numerous instances of identical boards for different schools meeting at the same time. This includes Parma-based Constellation Schools, a 16-school chain which has employees of the charters it runs sitting on school boards at company-wide, simultaneous board meetings presided over by Constellation’s president. Five of six board members of a Lorain school operated by Mosaica Education are Colorado residents, and three of them are board members of a Mosaica-run school in Colorado Springs.
Management organizations control the vast majority of school revenues, which often flow straight into company accounts; some exercise this control indirectly by hiring and firing staff employed and paid by schools. Charters run by the Leona Group lease staff from an Ohio-based company set up by Leona’s founder and CEO.
Many contracts include poison pills that require schools to make termination payments to management organizations if they decide to break or not renew management agreements. These provisions make it nearly impossible for charter boards to break from companies they ostensibly hire.
One-size-fits-all agreements signed by schools run by individual management organizations show that schools have little or no power to negotiate contracts fitting their needs and that managers are calling the shots in Ohio.
We have based our review on six criteria laid out by charter advocate Greg Richmond, CEO and president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, in a July 2010 Education Week commentary. These standards outline the importance of board independence and the need for clear contracts that leave boards, not management organizations, in control. Charter school sponsors, as authorizers are called in Ohio, should not approve charter proposals that do not meet these criteria, Richmond asserted in his commentary.
More than a "half dozen charter school accountability and transparency bills pending in legislative committees are not being heard. In September 2013, Senator Schiavoni introduced legislation in order to create uniform standards with the traditional public common school system." Components include:
- Require the state Auditor to do an annual audit of each charter school
- Require charter schools to follow public records laws the same as traditional public schools
- Prohibit charter schools from using taxpayer dollars for advertising, recruiting, or promotional materials
- Ensure that charter school teachers are evaluated by the same methods as traditional public school teachers and that they are licensed the same and are paid equivalently
- Require that upon a student’s transfer from one school to another, the report cards of both schools are given to the parents of that student
- Require that schools follow the same course of study requirements and disciplinary standards and that school board members abide by the same standards
In May 2014, the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education released a report, Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. The title was borrowed from the title of a section of a report that appeared in the Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General's Semiannual Report to Congress, No. 60. The most common type of fraud identified was embezzlement. A new advocacy group, Integrity in Education, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to expose connections between the U.S. Department of Education officials and for-profit education companies. Everything from embezzlement to data scrubbing is included in their list of problems. This is a list from the report of Ohio charters and their particular problems:
- Appendix A: Charter Operators Using Charter Funds for Personal Gain: "An Ohio state audit found that administrators at the Greater Achievement Community Charter School egregiously mismanaged public funds, sometimes using money for personal expenses." Cleveland metro reported the audit findings in 2012: at least $570,000 misspent. Greater Heights Academy Charter School officials defrauded "more than $400,000." Imani Institute Leadership Charter School officials defrauded Ohio taxpayers of over $800,000. The investigation was begun in 2003 and ended in conviction in 2011. In March of 2013, Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy Charter School officials were found guilty of multiple criminal charges including stealing at least $148,000 of taxpayer money. Officials of another Cincinnati Charter, W.E.B. DuBois, were found guilty of "record-tampering [inflating enrollment] and theft of over $700,000 in public money." Theodore Roosevelt Public Community Charter School official dismissed for spending for personal use. (See www.charterschoolsscandals.blogspot.com)
- Appendix B: School Revenue Used to Illegally Support Charter Operator Businesses: Lorain Arts Academy Charter School and Main Street Automotive Magnet School were both cited, and Lorain left $75,000 in unpaid bills when closed.
- Appendix C: Mismanagement that Puts Children in Potential Danger: The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Boys Charter School and The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Girls Charter School in Columbus were closed in 2013 for health and safety reasons.
- Appendix D: Charters Receiving Public Dollars for Services not Provided: Cleveland Academy of Scholarship Technology & Leadership Enterprise Charter School individuals and businesses were part of laundering or stealing $2 million of taxpayer money (April 2013).
- Appendix E: Charter Executives Illegally Inflating Enrollment to Boost Revenues. In 2012, International Preparatory Schools Charter Schools were ordered to pay back $1.4 million that they charged the state for students who never enrolled.
- Appendix F: Charter Operators Mismanaging Their Schools: Legacy Academy for Leaders and the Arts Charter School, George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy, NuBethel Center of Excellence, and New City Community School swindled $470,000 before they were closed. Carl Shye, who served as treasurer for as many as 10 charter schools in Ohio, embezzled over $1 million. Eagle Heights Academy Charter School in Youngstown was closed due to financial mismanagement and was immediately reopened under a different name.
The Los Angeles United School District voted to close the network of eight Gulen charter schools authorized by that District because of charter school funds being used for such things as immigration costs and loans to the management company, some of which were not repaid. Why would the District Court order them kept open?
That failed charters continue to operate is out of control as evidenced by several more recent examples. In a July 25 Columbus Dispatch article, FCI charter school is identified as a charter school in financial trouble. FCI charter school is on the campus of Living Faith Apostolic Church in Columbus. The Church's leader, his wife, and one other person founded it. The Church leader's wife is president of the school's board. … 3314.03(A)(11)(c) of the Ohio Revised Code states: "The school will be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution." Why was the school allowed to operate in the first place and then able to reopen? Isn’t there a need for a full-scale investigation?
VLT Academy is another example of the abuse that results from a lack of oversight of charters: Bill Phillis reports in OE&A in June of 1914 that "the superintendent of the VLT Academy, a charter school of 600 some students, was making $140,000 per year; her daughter was making $92,000 per year for data entry; and her husband was making $62,000 in addition to running his company that performs the charter's janitorial services, under a highest bid contract, for $323,000 per year. The family was receiving nearly $1,000 per student for central office duties and cleaning. …This charter school, in six years of operation, has been rated academic emergency, two years; academic watch, three years; and continuous improvement, one year." The operators are searching for new sponsors and the sponsors for new EMO.
7/28 The "Public Charter Schools Act" would expand on ALEC's pre-existing "Next Generation Charter Schools Act" and enrich ALEC members like K12, Inc., the nation's largest provider of online charter schools or cyber schools. It would allow privately-operated charter schools to continue taking public funds but without public accountability. The bill would give charter schools carte blanche to operate without being "subject to the state's education statutes or any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to non-charter public schools within an applicable local school district..." The related "Public Charter Schools Funding Act" restates charters' autonomy from the rule of law and democratically-elected school boards while still giving each charter school "one hundred percent" of the state and federal education funding "calculated pursuant to the state's funding formula for school districts."