Latest efforts to weaken Ohio charter school reforms trace, again, to campaign dollars: Brent Larkin
on February 26, 2016 at 7:07 AM, updated February 26, 2016 at 7:08 AM
Few human beings are more worthless than morally bankrupt politicians who consciously game the system in ways that make learning even more difficult for struggling young students.
Dear Readers: Allow me to introduce you to the people in charge of your Ohio General Assembly.
Today, those people happen to be Republicans. Of the 132 legislators, 88 of them are members of the same party as Gov. John Kasich.
For years, one of the worst-kept secrets in the nation’s public education community was that Ohio was a state where legislators would gladly sell out children in return for sizable campaign contributions from charter schools run by for-profit management firms.
That began to change last year, when reporting by newspapers throughout Ohio –most notably stories by Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell — exposed this state as the poster child for corruption and failure in its halfhearted attempts to require that for-profit charter schools actually educate children.
Even the national news media began to pay attention, often citing Ohio as a place with more failing charter schools than anywhere in the country, a state willing to pay charter school operators millions in taxpayer dollars but demanding little or nothing in return.
Ohio also has some spectacular charters, ones that do spectacular work educating underprivileged children. Some of them are in Cleveland.
But Ohio’s overall reputation is of a place that cares more about protecting for-profit charter school operators than it does about children who attend those schools. And Kasich hasn’t been nearly as outspoken as he should be in attempts to repair that reputation.
But the real culprits in what many feel is nothing short of Statehouse corruption have been members of the state legislature.
Former House Speaker Bill Batchelder did some admirable things on behalf of kids earlier in his long career in public life. As speaker, he tried to sell them out on a regular basis.
Batchelder’s successor, Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, is showing the potential to be even worse.
Just weeks after long-overdue charter school reforms took effect, Rosenberger and his sneaky band of legislative colleagues want to gut them.
Worse yet, Team Rosenberger wants to fleece the public and harm students at the behest of the the owner of Ohio’s largest — and one of its worst-performing –charter schools.
Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager was the second-largest contributor to Republican legislators in the last election cycle, buying more than $600,000 worth of influence. Lager and his army of sleazy lobbyists and phony groups disguised as charter-school advocates have convinced key Republican legislators to adopt provisions that would destroy the effectiveness of the brand new charter reform laws.
On Feb. 25, The Columbus Dispatch reported that the state inspector general “is investigating a troubled joint project by Ohio State University and the state Board of Higher Education to create a clearinghouse of online-learning materials.”
Progress Ohio, a liberal advocacy group, has long contended that, shortly after Kasich became governor, that joint project steered millions to Lager-controlled companies.
A coincidence? Hardly. Columbus corruption is not limited to legislative corridors.
But when it comes to protecting charter school operators at the expense of children, legislators have no peers.
Consider the breathtaking changes Republican legislators want to enact, as firstdetailed by the Dispatch in mid-February:
* Delay for at least a year requirements that charter schools keep track of who attends their schools. Why? Because some charter operators want to be reimbursed by you and me for phantom students.
* Determine funding for dirt-bag charter operators based on the number of students who enroll in the school, not the number who actually attend classes.
* Water down the new law’s excellent system of measuring student performance with a lousy one, known as the California model.
Ohio Board of Education President Tom Gunlock, a Kasich appointee, called adopting the California model “the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my entire life –ever.”
And State Sen. Peggy Lehner, one of a dozen or so legislative leaders who actually cares deeply about children and education, labeled as “unacceptable” any attempt to dilute provisions in the new charter school law.
Lehner is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Unfortunately, Lehner’s counterpart in the House, Education Committee Chairman Andrew Brenner, comes across as more of a Lager lobbyist than someone sent 30 miles south to represent his Delaware County constituents.
Republican legislators had hoped to complete their dismantling of the charter reform bill in February. Only after getting caught did they slow the process.
But these are bad people. They won’t quit trying as long as their benefactor in the private sector keeps those checks coming.
The governor and Senate President Keith Faber, who aspires to statewide office, have been silent on this attempted theft of public funds.
Kasich could put a stop to this in six seconds by telling his Republican colleagues to crawl back into their caves and stop trying to harm children.
Ohio’s governor has every right to run for president. But he also has a constitutional duty to prevent immoral legislators from funneling hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to people who operate crappy charter schools.
Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.