A lot of things are going on with regard to charter schools, and it is not clear how it will all come out.
The Ohio Legislature has passed a bill that could make quite a difference. For one thing it adds a category for evaluation of charter sponsors. The categories had been exemplary, effective and ineffective. To this has been added “poor.” Sponsors will be evaluated annually by an independent evaluator.
A sponsor rated poor may have the right to sponsor revoked. A sponsor rated ineffective will not be allowed to start additional charter schools.
Sponsors cannot deal with bad ratings of schools by changing the name of the school and continuing to operate with the same staff and facilities as some have done in the past.
How well this will work will depend on the effort of the Department of Education to enforce the law. Its record has not been good, the worst example probably being the Gulen schools run by a Turkish refugee. Seventeen of the 19 have unsatisfactory ratings.
There have been enough complaints about the operation of these schools including violation of immigration laws and cheating on state tests that the FBI has investigated, but the Department of Education has not.
The Department of Education apparently does not think it is a problem that in the most recent state evaluations 45 percent of charter schools have an F and 23 percent have a D.
The department sought and received $71 million to create charter schools in Youngstown. Apparently, the department would like to replace all the public schools with charter schools. Local citizens have gone to court to try to stop this.
However, David Hansen, school choice director for the Ohio Department of Education, resigned after admitting he had deleted F evaluation grades for online schools in data included in the grant proposal. The grant proposal thus did not honestly reflect the performance of charter schools. The combination of this and the court challenge leaves the outcome in Youngstown uncertain.
Something else that is happening is that two districts — Woodridge in Northeastern Ohio and Logan Hocking — have sent invoices to the Ohio Department of Education for the money that has been taken away from them for charter schools. The invoices total $9 million. Other districts may follow.
The Department of Education has not replied, and it seems likely that the case will end up in court. A major point in the issue is that while part of the money that is taken is state money, part of it is local money that voters have approved specifically for the district. This would appear to be illegal.
Finally, there is the matter of fraudulent attendance reports. When State Auditor David Yost examined 20 charter schools this year he was amazed at attendance claims. What he found was consistent with what a Scripps Howard reporter found when he went to three of David Brennan’s schools several years ago. The number of students actually there was half the number the schools claimed and received funding for.
Yost does not think it is his job to verify attendance, and wants the Department of Education to do so.
All these items leave little hope that the charter schools will achieve the promise that was seen in them when charter schools started in Ohio two decades ago.
Guido H. Stempel III is a distinguished professor emeritus of journalism at Ohio University. Professor Stempel has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin and a master's in journalism from Indiana University. He has been on the Ohio University faculty since 1965 and served as director and graduate chairman of the journalism school, director of the Bush Research Endowment, and director of the Scripps Survey Research Center. He is a columnist for The Athens Messenger and The Highland County Press.