Editorial: Charter reform bill falls short of the goal of full transparency

Editorial from The Vindicator If the Republican majority in the Ohio General Assembly is sincere about fixing the broken charter school system, it will kill the measure now before the House and introduce one that guarantees accountability and transparency.

We have long argued that charter schools should be governed by the same rules and regulations as public schools, seeing as how more than $1 billion has been redirected from local districts to the charters. It has been 18 years since Republicans in the General Assembly adopted school choice as a major plank in their political platform and decided that public dollars should follow the students who move out of public schools.

The GOP, responding to the wishes of major campaign donors, also made sure there would not be any impediments, such as the prying eyes of the taxpayers, to operation of charter schools.

Thus today, the 120,000 students in the 300 schools are at the mercy of the owners and operators. And as Ohio Auditor David Yost revealed recently, the overreporting of attendance is a systemic problem.

Yost’s office conducted an informal audit of 30 community schools and found shockingly low attendance rates at half the schools, Indeed, at the Academy for Urban Scholars in Youngstown, auditors did not find a single student in school. Two months earlier, the school reported 2014-15 attendance at 95.

Attendance, or lack thereof, is just one in a long list of problems that have plagued the charter school industry for years.

That’s why House Bill 2 before the General Assembly is too little, too late.

The measure would prohibit poor-performing charter schools from regularly switching sponsors, require contracts between schools and management companies to be filed with the state and posted online, and push for increased public information about charter school performance.

Democratic state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, the minority leader, is pushing for legislation that would clamp down on charter sponsors and operations.

“Ohio’s system of regulating public charter schools is broken. ... There are just too many examples of students being cheated out of a good education and tax dollars being wasted for the General Assembly to ignore the problem any longer.”

State governance

The only way to accomplish this is to change the governance of the industry so that the Ohio Department of Education would exert the same authority as it does with the public school system, and the state auditor would have free rein to regularly audit the books of the charter schools and to conduct special audits when needed.

Republicans can no longer argue that the sanctity of school choice must be preserved and that state government should keep its hands off the charters.

As the list of irregularities grows, the need for transparency and accountability has never been greater. Ohio’s open records law should be applied so taxpayers can track expenditure of public funds.

The creators of the charter school industry in Ohio made a lot of promises about the education of children and the management of taxpayer dollars that have not been kept. Public school districts, including the academically and fiscally embattled one in Youngstown, are losing significant amounts of money to a system that is not a viable alternative.

It’s time for the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. John Kasich to make things right.