Ohio charter-school grant labeled ‘high risk’
The U.S. Department of Education is letting Ohio keep its $71 million grant to expand charter schools.
But, it is designating the grant “high risk” and upping oversight to ensure there is no fraud.
The Ohio Department of Education must, among other restrictions:
- Create a database that shows charter schools’ academic, operational and financial performance;
- Submit documentation to the U.S. Department of Education for each withdrawal from the grant account;
- Post semi-annual financial reports to show how the grant is being used;
- And hire an independent monitor to oversee implementation of the special restrictions.
The new rules were announced Wednesday in a letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s Stefan Huh to Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Paolo DeMaria. Huh's letter states that while the review of Ohio’s grant application didn’t find any significant inaccuracies, there were enough concerns raised to merit extra scrutiny.
In particular, Huh noted the “circumstances under which a key ODE staff member departed.” That’s a reference to David Hansen, a high-ranking Ohio education official who resigned in 2015 after he was accused of playing with charter-school rankings to protect poor performers.
The $71 million grant, spread out over several years, was first announced in September 2015. It was part of a package of more than $157 million for charter schools nationwide, and Ohio – known for its shaky performance when it comes to charter schools – got the biggest chunk of the pie. By comparison, the Illinois Department of Education got the next-biggest grant: $42.3 million.
Opponents said U.S. officials were throwing good money after bad and rewarding a system fraught with corruption. The Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition sent a letter to then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking him to cancel the grant and give the money to traditional public schools instead.
In November, the U.S. Department of Education essentially put the grant on hold while it reviewed Ohio's application.
ODE spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said the department is happy with the news it can move forward with the grant and dedicated to following the new stipulations.
"Ohio’s accountability system is stronger thanks to reforms in the state’s charter school law," 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."
In a call with reporters on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, praised the restrictions. He called Ohio's for-profit charter system a "disgrace" and said the new checks will ensure the grant is properly spent.
Some charter schools are thriving in Ohio, Brown said, but “too many, particularly online for-profits .. aren’t meeting the needs of our students.
"Children pay the price for this mismanagement, and it costs taxpayers money."
Brown, one of several politicians to push for tougher restrictions after the grant was first announced, said the money might have been wasted without this extra oversight.Ohio charter-school grant labeled ‘high risk’: