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Charter Controversy Could Renew Efforts To Close Failing Schools

Lawmakers scrapped Gov. Kasich's proposal that would have given schools less money.
User: Thoth188
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Flickr/Creative Commons
Ohio Statehouse

The head of the Office of School Choice in Ohio resigned over the weekend, after he admitted he had left some failing grades out of several charter school evaluations. Critics question whether David Hansen was purposely “scrubbing” the grades to make charter sponsors look good.

The state legislature appeared ready to agree on a bill to eliminate failing charter schools by going after the authorizers who sponsor them. Democrats called the legislation too weak, but both of the Republican dominated chambers approved similar bills. Then legislators tabled HB 2 saying it needed more study. 

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, said that left charter school oversight so too lax in Ohio. He added an amendment to the federal education bill that allows public inspection of for-profit charter school companies. 

“It didn’t go as far as I wanted but it was a recognition by my colleagues that for-profit charter schools are a problem," Brown said. "We need to deal with it sooner or later because the states have simply failed to do it.”

Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner doesn’t argue with that.

“Until we actually pass legislation that significantly reforms the charter school laws in Ohio we have failed,” she said.

As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Lehner spent months on a Senate bill to clean up Ohio charter schools, which Stanford University has rated some of the worst in the nation.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross with Gov. John Kasich at a Cleveland charter school earlier this year.
Credit Mark Urycki / State Impact Ohio
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State Impact Ohio
Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross with Gov. John Kasich at a Cleveland charter school earlier this year.

Sherrod Brown lays the blame for Ohio’s lack of oversight on legislators who receive large campaign donations from charter company owners. But he also pointed the finger at the Kasich administration’s Department of Education. Ohio’s School Superintendent Richard Ross says he and the Governor want reforms.

“We believe that there needs to be some changes in the community school law," Ross said. "We advocated for what came out of the executive budget and we still see that need and it continues to be there." 

Sen. Lehner is also confident the House and Senate will eventually work out a new law.

“And I’ll continue to push very vigorously to see that that happens because I think that legislation will go a long way towards fixing the problems with Ohio’s charter schools,” she said. 

The CEO of the Cleveland Municipal School District, Eric Gordon, says at least they’re talking about it.

“The House has really prohibited conversation around charter reform. Now the House was in defensive posture," Gordon said. "So not only is the pressure growing but it’s the first time we’ve actually seen the House have to respond to a reform package instead of being able to prohibit the conversation at all.”

And now the scandal over the alleged scrubbing of failing charter grades may put additional pressure on the legislature. The General Assembly is expected to take up the measure again in September.