Conditions Will Be Attached to Ohio Charter School Grant

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

If the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) wants to keep a $71 million grant that is to be used for charter expansion, the state will have to comply with the US Department of Education’s new designation of the award as “high risk” and the ramped up oversight that will ensue to ensure there is no fraud.

Other restrictions being levied on the Ohio Department of Education include the production of a database to monitor charter schools’ academic, financial, and operational performance. The DoE also wants documentation for each withdrawal from the grant’s account. The state department must release semi-annual financial reports showing how the money is being used and will be required to hire an outside monitor to supervise the execution of the specific constraints.

Hannah Sparling and Deirdre Shesgreen write for USA Today that Stefan Huh of the US Department of Education sent the new rules to Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria. Huh advised that although there were no glaring mistakes on the state’s grant application, there were enough issues to warrant additional examination.

Specifically, said Huh, the “circumstances under which a key ODE staff member departed” were a concern. This comment was a reference to David Hansen, an upper-level Ohio education official who quit in 2015 after he allegedly tampered with charter school performance statistics to shield schools that were doing poorly.

When the grant money was distributed in September 2015, Ohio got the largest amount of funding. It was already a well-known fact that Ohio’s charter school record was shaky, and many said giving so much money to Ohio was a mistake since the system was felt to be corrupt.

In fact, the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition sent a letter to former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking him to withdraw the grant and give the money to public schools instead. The grant was put on hold in November but is now moving forward, albeit with new conditions.

“Ohio’s accountability system is stronger thanks to reforms in the state’s charter school law,” ODE spokesperson Brittany Halpin wrote in an email. “The department now has greater authority to ensure that quality sponsors oversee schools and we’re able to provide incentives to sponsors that have track records of success. We’ve also taken steps to ensure the new sponsor evaluation system is clear, transparent and consistent with rule and law.”

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss writes that an analysis found that Ohio’s charter sector has spent tax dollars more recklessly than school districts, public universities, court systems, local governments, and hospitals.

Steve Dyer, an attorney, education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, and former state representative, had this to say on his blog:

“To add insult to injury, a charter school chain that has some of the highest performing charters in Ohio was rejected for sponsorship in Mississippi — yes, THAT Mississippi — this week [for] not being high performing enough for that state to sponsor.”

“When the best performing schools in your state aren’t high performing enough for Mississippi, you’ve got problems.”

A report from the Innovation Ohio group and the Ohio Education Association declared that of 292 charter schools that received federal Charter School Program grants since 2006, 37% had either closed or never opened. Over 40% of those schools were sponsored by traditional public school districts, according to Jim Siegel of The Columbus Dispatch.

US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) strongly supports the accountability and transparency requirements placed on the charter school grant, especially since the state’s national standing has been sullied and Ohio is now known as “the wild west” of charter school systems.

Brown added that the “high-risk” status now associated with the grant means the restrictions for Ohio are the most severe that have ever been placed on a charter school grant recipient, reports John Michael Spinelli for Plunderbund, a political blog in Ohio.