COLUMBUS—ProgressOhio today asked Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien to launch a grand jury investigation into Ohio’s efforts to conceal poor grades for some chronically failing online charter schools.
The scandal appears to have been orchestrated by David Hansen while he served as the Ohio Department of Education’s school choice administrator. Hansen resigned in July after The Plain Dealer unearthed the concealment and state school board members said he was required by state law to include online schools and dropout recovery schools in evaluations of charter school oversight agencies. Hansen left out the low grades after learning that including them made some politically connected online charters look bad.
While acknowledging that the county prosecutor has discretion over whether to convene a grand jury and what evidence to present, ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis said, “There is good cause to believe that Hansen could have violated several state laws,’’ including tampering with records, obstructing official business, falsification, and dereliction of duty.
“I cannot help but compare the ongoing data-scrubbing scandal at the state education department to the recent data-scrubbing scandal at Columbus City Schools,’’ Theis wrote in her letter to O’Brien. Columbus employees falsified student records to improve their schools’ standing on state report cards. Hansen doctored state ratings to improve the standing of traditionally low-performing charter schools, she said. You can read the letter here.
“While the (Columbus) investigation showed no evidence that then-Superintendent Gene Harris orchestrated the cheating, she received one year’s probation for dereliction of duty,’’ the letter states. Hansen has admitted to omitting some F grades for online schools from a key charter school evaluation. The omission not only made it appear as if some of the state’s worst-performing charters were doing well, it also could have made the schools eligible for new state perks.
State lawmakers recently passed meaningful charter school reform but Theis said additional reforms are needed and the type of accountability a grand jury can provide is long overdue.