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Ohio: Major Newspaper Calls for Charter School Accountability and Transparency

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One of the most heartening developments in recent years is the awakening of major newspapers in Ohio to the massive scandals surrounding their state’s charter industry. These scandals have come about because of the money nexus that connects charter operators and politicians. Charters in Ohio have a dismal academic record, and also a dismal financial record. This happens because the laws were written by charter lobbyists and protect the operators from full financial disclosure.

The Columbus Dispatch has had enough. In this editorial, it calls for legislation to compel charters to open their books for public inspection. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow.

No function of state government is more important than its constitutional obligation to “secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.” Education is the bedrock of democracy. That is why the Ohio Constitution, since 1851, has obligated the state to provide an education to each of its citizens.

How thoroughly and how efficiently the state fulfills this mandate should concern every Ohioan, every year, every generation.

But Ohioans’ ability to judge the state’s performance is threatened by state lawmakers’ willingness to hide from public view how the charter-school industry spends a sizable portion of taxpayer dollars.

In an era of privatization of much of primary and secondary education, taxpayers should insist that state lawmakers provide complete transparency of the expenditure of public funds for education.

State Rep. David J. Leland, D-Columbus, has introduced legislation to accomplish this goal. In fewer than 100 words, the bill declares “funds that the department of education pays to a community (charter) school or nonpublic school . . . are public funds and shall be subject to the same requirements related to permissible expenditures and audit by the auditor of state as public funds allocated to school districts.

“If a community school uses public funds to pay for services of an entity to manage the daily operations of that school or to provide programmatic oversight and support of that school, those funds maintain their status as public funds upon transfer.”

In recent years, Ohio earned an unwelcome reputation for having the nation’s worst oversight of the charter-school industry. No surprise, then, that Ohio has had some of the nation’s worst-performing charter schools.

The editorial goes on to detail the changes that are needed.

What this represents is a welcome recognition by the major media that charter schools cannot continue to operate as private schools with public money. A recent court decision in Ohio ruled, in accordance with the charter-friendly law, that anything purchased by the charter with public funds belongs to the charter operator, not the public. If the law is rewritten, that giveaway of public money must be ended.

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