School Choice via Charter Schools: Individualism vs. the Common Good
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education announced new grants of $245 million (a quarter of a billion dollars) under its Charter Schools Program (CSP), for the creation and expansion of charter schools. The federal government awards these grants to what are known as SEAs —state educational agencies or, in common parlance, state departments of education—and to charter management organizations—the big chains of charter schools, many of them for-profit. But while the U.S. Department of Education continues to operate the Charter Schools Program as though nothing has changed, there is a whirlwind of controversy these days about the impact of charter schools.
In Ohio, everybody is waiting to see what Franklin County Common Please Court Judge Jenifer French will decide in the case brought by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT)—a huge online school being investigated by the Ohio Department of Education for collecting hundreds millions of tax dollars over the years for phantom students—students who sign up for ECOT but log-in for only about an hour every day, when the state requires five hours of active participation. Why has ECOT sued for a preliminary injunction to block the state’s demand for records of students’ computer log-in times? Because ECOT has not bothered to set up a comprehensive system for collecting this seemingly important information. On Monday of this week, the Ohio Department of Education reported on an audit it has conducted with a sample of ECOT’s supposed students. Patrick O’Donnell of the Plain Dealer reports: “ECOT was paid about $106 million in state funding last year for a reported 15,322 full-time students. But after a preliminary attendance review in March and a final review in August that required the school to verify its enrollment through student log-in durations, the department has concluded that ECOT’s actual verified enrollment is 6,313 students. Based on the final determination, the department could try to force ECOT and its politically influential founder, Bill Lager, to repay about $60 million to the state.” And potentially much more if there is a retroactive claw-back for over-payments in previous years. Much hangs on Judge Jenifer French’s decision in what is rapidly becoming an outrageous scandal.