Disappointed by recent reports of widespread dysfunction and even criminal behavior in Ohio charter schools, Gov. John Kasich pledged Thursday to fix them with new regulation and oversight.
“We will not tolerate people coming into this state, making money at the expense of great education for our kids,” Kasich told a gathering of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. “There is no excuse for people coming in here and taking advantage of anything.”
Ohio has been one of the largest statewide charter school operations in the country, with about 400 schools serving over 120,000 students. While charters have easily attracted students, though, academic success has been harder to come by.
Recent reports and investigations have suggested that the typical Ohio charter substantially underperforms the average conventional school. Some schools have even been the center of criminal operations. The head of one school pleaded guilty last October to embezzling over six figures of taxpayer money to pay for jewelry and lavish personal vacations, while another school is subject to an FBI investigation for irregularities on standardized tests.
Not only do many schools preform badly, but sometimes they are difficult to stop, with attempted closures winding up mired in the court system. The upshot is a system that has given over a billion dollars to schools that never graded any higher than a D or F on the state’s school rating system.
Rather than defending Ohio charters, many national charter proponents are taking the lead in demanding change, fearing that widespread failure in the Buckeye State could discredit the wider movement for school choice. One group that supports charters, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), has even labeled Ohio the “Wild Wild West” of school choice, in need of a firmer government hand.
That will change, and soon, promised Kasich, who said potential reforms will be included in his budget proposal in February.
“We are going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools,” he said.
Richard Ross, the state schools superintendent, echoed Kasich, telling the The Columbus Dispatch that “persuasiveness” and the state’s court system had proven insufficient to maintain quality and stamp out greed.
By acting to reform charters, Kasich, who has been floated as a possible 2016 candidate, could bolster his image as a relative moderate in the Republican Party. Calls for changes to Ohio’s charter law have been strongest from Democratic and union interests, and have only recently surged among Republicans.
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