State Auditor Slams Ohio Dept of Ed as Worst State-Run Agency

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

A state auditor in Ohio, David Yost, has accused the Ohio Department of Education of being "among the worst, if not the worst, state-run agency" in his second audit examining attendance of charter schools. He claimed the department was too scattered to focus on its core mission of overseeing public schools.

"It's scattershot," Mr. Yost said. "They're supposed to do everything about everything. I think the time has come to sharpen the focus of their mission."

According to Jim Provance, the bureau chief of Blade Columbus, auditors in Yost's office made surprise visits to 44 randomly selected charter schools on November 9, 2015. These visits marked the second official look into whether attendance of charter schools corresponded with state enrollment data.

Seven percent of the schools examined were found to be significantly below reported attendance numbers, a marked improvement from findings of the 2014 inspections. Furthermore, 78% of students were found to be in attendance on the day of the impromptu inspections. Still, Yost expressed concerns about attendance at the dropout recovery schools, which are used as the last resort to keep problem students from dropping out of the education system altogether.

"While 78 is not a great number, it's better than 10 percent," Yost said. "Dropout students are students who traditionally do not do well in public schools. Attendance is usually their problem. Dropout recovery centers are a special breed."

Yost also complained about the delays in procuring public information and ongoing problems with the school data-collection system."It takes weeks or months to get data. We've waited on data reports for months on end, simple kinds of tasks that you would expect data to be completed (within weeks) even in government," he said.

As a policy recommendation, Yost suggested moving the Education Management Information System (EMIS) to an agency with more expertise in management for schools to report student enrollment, attendance and other data used to determine funding and quality performance.

Additionally, the auditors referred three schools to the Department of Education for possible legal action because they were functioning as hybrids of on-site and Internet-based education, something which they are prohibited from doing under state law. These schools, according to The Columbus Dispatch, were Urban Community Schools, London Academy, and Utica Shale Academy.

Jeremy Kelley, a staff writer for Springfield News-Sun, notes that the state Department of Education issued a statement defending itself. "The department is currently implementing Ohio's new community school sponsor evaluation system, which is one of the most transparent and comprehensive in the country. This, and other measures included in Ohio's community school reform bill, significantly strengthens the accountability structures that govern Ohio's community schools, state oversight of sponsors and operator transparency."

Charter schools are not subject to the same level of regulation as traditional K-12 schools, and the report in Ohio raises concerns about the lax standards present in some charters. Incidents like these fuel the arguments of those who criticize charter schools as being as being inefficient alternatives to public schools, which are subject to greater scrutiny and allow for teachers unions.

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