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Ohio Legislature looks to increase accountability for charter schools

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By Rachel Mullen
Watchdog.org
March 30, 2015

Charter schools are an important part of the school choice movement. Unfortunately, as with any of these entities, some game the system.

These unethical and wasteful schools taint the entire education reform movement. Ohio is no exception to this. The Center for Education Reform recently gave Ohio’s Charter Schools a grade of “C.”

Dave Yost, the Auditor of State, has taken an aggressive stand towards cleaning up wasteful charter schools, making them more accountable to the taxpayers. The auditor has demanded repayment of nearly $300,000 from two charter schools.

Sunrise Academy, a chartered Islamic school in Hilliard will need to repay $198,746. Those funds were attributed to an instructor hired to teach non-English speaking students. However, this instruction was never provided to the students.

Wendy Marshall received $88,750 in tax dollars to open the Directional Academy in 2013. That school never opened after accepting the funds. Yost is demanding they be returned to the state.

House Bill 2 is a charter school reform bill now being considered by the Legislature. It is co-sponsored by Majority Whip Mike Dovilla and state Rep. Kristina Roegner. The bill was written to increase accountability, transparency and responsibility in Ohio’s charter schools. Yost testified before the House Education Committee earlier this month regarding this bill.

His testimony focuses on possible abuses and closing those loopholes. One of those issues is truancy. If a student is truant, the school should withdraw him. Funding is based upon a 105 hour clock, allowing a student to miss a month of school and the school would still be receiving payment from the state.

“If the student misses 104 hours, then shows up for a single day, the student gets a new 105-hour clock. The school is not required to withdraw the student and they continue to receive funding as if the student hadn’t missed a day of school. That means that it is possible for a student to show up for as few as 10 days of school and receive funding for an entire year.”

Yost also suggests placing liens on school buildings in the event that a charter school fails soon after opening its doors. Under the current system, if a school fails quickly, the school still ends up with a building paid for by the taxpayers.

 “Currently, because of short investment horizons, facilities are often funded by front- loaded leases that use a high proportion of revenue in early years to retire the debt over a short amortization. Then, if the school fails, the realty company, often controlled by the management company, owns the building.

It is worth recognizing the interest the state has in that building – but for the state funding, the building would not have been acquired. Education of our children ought not be a back-door means to acquire real estate. “

Student transfers are not currently tracked well. If a school cannot locate the student identification number, it creates a new one. Allowing the Ohio Department of Education to use the identity of the student would cause more accountability. Privacy is not a concern as the state already has this information.

“The State funds students based on attendance, and as my office’s work has amply demonstrated over the past several years, the “honor system” used in Ohio is open to abuse.

During interviews, we have discovered that schools will often generate a new SSID for a student when they have difficulty finding that student’s previously assigned SSID. In 2012-13, we discovered multiple SSIDs for the same student, which wreaks havoc on efforts to track student transfers between schools.

The simple solution is to follow the example of every other state in the Union, save one, and allow ODE to know the identity of the student behind those numbers. We are one of only two states that hamstring our Department of Education like this. It will increase the accuracy of our data, prevent funding errors and make sure that children don’t fall through the cracks. “

The school choice movement allows families the opportunity to determine which education is best suited for their children. But, like any school, charter schools need to be accountable to the taxpayers. Closing loopholes for abuse of state resources emboldens the movement as it increases confidence from the public.