by Félix Pérez
As one of 14 Republican presidential contenders, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has sought to separate himself from his better-known opponents by laying claim to the mantle of the candidate who has gotten things done as governor and as a member of Congress. But his state’s growing charter school crisis, long a subject of local news interest, appears to be morphing from a statewide scandal into an issue with the potential to flatten Kasich’s presidential ambitions.
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USA Today, for instance, the nation’s third-largest circulation newspaper, ran a story this month with the headline “Charter-school records could hurt Kasich presidential bid.” Calling the ever-widening charter school grade-rigging controversy “the biggest possible ethical blemish hanging over his presidential bid,” the newspaper noted Kasich’s refusal to order an independent investigation despite a request from seven members of the state Board of Education and state lawmakers.
Another national newspaper, The Washington Post, described Ohio’s charter school system as the “most troubled in the country.” The news story reported that Kasich’s promises to bring about greater accountability and transparency have gone unfulfilled.
National magazine Mother Jones didn’t mince words with a story titled “Under John Kasich, Ohio’s Charter Schools Became a ‘National Joke’. “ The article noted that Kasich’s effort to put distance between himself and the state’s charter school sector is a tough sell. “He presided over an expanded charter regime with loosened oversight. Troubled charter schools . . . have proliferated in this environment. Schools with D or F grades receive an estimated 90 percent of the state’s charter school funding. Virtual schools, which have an even worse academic track record and insufficient quality controls have been permitted to flourish.”
The state’s superintendent, Richard Ross, appointed by Kasich, has steadfastly resisted calls for an independent investigation into who knew what and when about the manipulation of state data to make charter school sponsors look better, thereby making them eligible for millions of dollars in tax dollars. Many of the charter schools benefiting from the withheld information are run by the state’s largest political donors. Innovation Ohio revealed that “nearly 1 out of every 4 state dollars paid to charters since their inception have gone to poorly performing charters operated by David Brennan or William Lager who, together, have contributed over $5.4 million to Republican candidates and causes.”
The central figure in the doctored charter school grade data is David Hansen, the state Department of Education’s director of school choice and charters. Hansen, appointed by Kasich, resigned in July after admitting he excluded poor grades for online and dropout-recovery schools on evaluations of their charter-school sponsors. Hansen’s wife, Beth Hansen, is Kasich’s former chief of staff and serves as Kasich’s presidential campaign manager. Kasich and Ross came under fire for delaying the release of records and emails pertaining to Hansen’s misdeed.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, most charter schools in Ohio are run by for-profit companies. The newspaper reported that since charter schools were introduced in the state 18 years ago, about $1 billion in tax dollars passed through schools that folded. A charter school shuttering this summer was the 200th since the program began.
While there has been no evidence of Kasich’s involvement in the data scrubbing, his hands-off leadership style on the swirling mismanagement and potential legal violations has made him the subject of pointed criticism. Wrote Brent Larkin, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s former editorial director:
Gov. John Kasich has some legitimate bragging rights to recite for voters in his campaign for president. What you won’t hear him talk about is Ohio’s well-deserved national reputation as a place where money matters more than the future of a kid trapped in a dreadful charter school.
The lack of oversight has even charter school supporters decrying Ohio’s billion dollar charter industry.
“Ohio has a real quality control problem,” Alex Medler of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers told the Cleveand Plain Dealer. “Ohio’s more broken than the Wild West.”
If recent troubling headlines are any indication, Kasich’s charter school problem threatens to derail his presidential before it gains momentum. Some of those headlines include:
- “Audit Finds Hints of Nepotism, Self-Dealing At Charter School”
- “Blame and ignorance follow 200th charter school flop in Ohio”
- “Ohio Teacher Unions Jointly Call For Independent Investigation Of ODE’s Role In Charter School Data Rigging”
- “State school board tables proposed investigation of charter school grade ‘scrubbing’ “
- “State school board members want investigation of education department”
- “Staff who worked on Ohio charter school “data-rigging” are silent as state school board has questions for Supt. Dick Ross”
- “State’s top school choice official resigns after illegal e-school omission”
- “Charters chief kept quiet about bad studies”
- “Data-rigging for Ohio charter-school evaluations involved several employees”
The state’s educators, meanwhile, continue to press state legislators to pass a bill this fall that provides oversight and funding reform of charter schools. Scott DiMauro, a high school social studies teacher and vice president of the Ohio Education Association, said at news conference last month:
We’re troubled that the opportunity was lost to start a new school year with an improved system of charter school accountability and hope that members of the House will act swiftly to pass the senate-passed bill and resist pressure from some who profit from the current system to water down the legislation,” said “Given the scandal around the Ohio Department of Education’s failure to enact charter sponsor ratings in a clean and lawful way, the urgency for action is greater than ever.