Ohio Democrats, including former Gov. Ted Strickland, angry over $71 million charter school grant

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Then-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland participates in a debate in Columbus in September 2010 during his unsuccessful re-election campaign. Strickland, now running for the Democratic nomination for Rob Portman’s U.S. Senate seat, has asked the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider the $71 million grant Ohio just received for charter school expansion. (Chris Russell, Pool/AP Photo, File, 2010)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio Democrats are lining up to bash the $71 million grant the state just won to expand charter schools in the state, with former governor and Senate candidate Ted Strickland joining the critics today.

Strickland, who is running against Sen. Rob Portman next year, said that Ohio’s charter schools should not be expanded because their performance lags behind traditional public schools. He also said he doesn’t trust Ohio’s grant application or the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to give out grants to schools.

Also joining in: U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, the Democratic caucus of the Ohio Senate, state school board member Mary Rose Oakar and State Rep. Teresa Fedor, the ranking democrat on the House Education Committee.

Strickland pointed to the July resignation of school choice chief David Hansen, following The Plain Dealer’s June report that Hansen and ODE had simply left F grades of online schools out of key charter school evaluations.

Strickland called that exclusion of poorly-graded schools “propping them up.”

He questioned whether the U.S. Department of Education should trust an application prepared by Hansen in the days before resigning.

“In July, Ohio’s chief charter school oversight officer—the very person who filled out Ohio’s application for your grant money—resigned when it was discovered that he deliberately tampered with charter school sponsor evaluations to mask just how horrible charter schools are actually performing,” Strickland said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking him to reconsider the grant.

Strickland continued: “You just awarded $71 million in taxpayer dollars to a state department of education that has been rigging the books. The Department should go back over Ohio’s grant application and see whether it was rigged as well.”

See his full letter below.

Strickland, in his press release today, said Portman had written a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of the grant application. That letter this summer, as Portman’s campaign noted today, did not openly back the application but only asked for it to be given “due consideration.”

Portman representatives did not share Strickland’s concerns about how the money will be used.

“Senator Portman has confidence that Governor (John) Kasich will ensure the resources are spent appropriately,” said Christyn Lansing, Portman’s press secretary.

Oakar said last week that she also questions whether Hansen was truthful in the application.

The Plain Dealer requested the application for the grant from ODE last week, but the department has not provided it yet.

ODE spokesperson Kim Norris has said the department is proud to win the award and noted that it will work with the federal department to develop criteria to award money to schools.

“This grant will be a transparent, highly competitive process by which the schools apply,” Norris said. “We continue to be strong advocates for transparency and accountability in charter schools and sponsors, naming an impartial three-member panel to advise the department as it develops a new system for evaluating community school sponsors.”

ODE has declined to tell The Plain Dealer when that advisory panel meets.

“The panel that is meeting is not a public body that requires a public meeting notice – it is an internal meeting,” Norris told us when we requested a schedule. “Therefore, it does not require a public meeting notice.”

Ryan, who represents the 13th district covering parts of Mahoning, Portage and Summit counties, urged Duncan last week to place “stringent restrictions” on use of that money because he considers Ohio’s charter school oversight system a failure. He also pointed to Hansen’s “mishandling” of the evaluations.

“I call on the U.S. Department of Education to work with the State of Ohio to make sure the proper oversight and transparency are in place to ensure accountability and success before federal taxpayer funds are distributed to an Ohio program that has so far failed in providing effective oversight,” Ryan wrote.

Should Ohio receive this money? Tell us below.

Fedor criticized how ODE has handled charter schools for the last several years, questioning why it should be trusted with money for them.

“Due to the abysmal lack of regulations surrounding charter schools in Ohio as well as the failed, unaccountable leadership of the state superintendent, I do not believe that the Ohio Department of Education should be considered an eligible applicant nor awarded any charter-related funding at this time,” she wrote in a letter to Duncan last week.

Democratic members of the Ohio Senate directed their concerns just to State Superintendent Richard Ross, asking him to withhold the federal grant money from online schools. They called e-schools “deeply marred by poor performance and scandal” and the “most flawed part of our charter system.”

“Our concern about this pattern of failure deepened this week when the Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed how students enrolled in e-schools fall so far behind in their first year that they never catch up,” they wrote. “Additionally, e-schools were at the forefront of the recent events at ODE whereby failing scores of e-schools were unlawfully withheld in calculating charter school sponsor evaluations.”

Here is Strickland’s letter:

The Honorable  Ame Duncan

Secretary, U.S. Department of Education Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ)  Department  of Education Building

400 Maryland Ave, SW Washington, DC 20202

October 5, 20 15

Dear Mr. Secretary,

I write to add my name to the growing chorus of disbelief and disappointment with your recent recommended award of $71 million for charter schools in Ohio. As we have discussed many times, I am not against all charter schools and am certainly not opposed to high quality, not-for­ profit school choice. But too many of Ohio’s charter schools are an embarrassment. Those who care about kids are ashamed that these failing schools are being funded by the taxpayers, and that Ohio is still allowing kids to be educated at these clearly ineffective institutions.

And it has only gotten worse. Less than a year ago, the very same organization whose research the Department cites in its press release (Stanford University ‘s Center for Research on Education Outcomes) found that, “On average, students in Ohio ‘s traditional public schools learned significantly more than students in charter schools in both reading and mathematics.” The Center also finds, “The disadvantage for charter students is 14 fewer days of learning in a school year in reading and 43 fewer days of learning in math for the same time period .”

Why  is the Department  rewarding  this unacceptable  behavior? Not only  are these poor performing charter schools undeserving of millions of additional funds, this grant to charters comes at a time when  many  of Ohio’s traditional  public schools are facing significant cuts and are being asked to do more with less. Surely this money could be better  invested  in public  schools that have a proven track record  of better  serving Ohio students.

And if dismal charter school performance isn ‘t enough, we now know that Ohio’s State Department of Education was illegally propping them up. In July, Ohio’s chief charter school oversight officer-the very person who filled out Ohio ‘s application for your grant money-resigned when it was  discovered  that he deliberately  tampered  with  charter  school sponsor evaluations to mask just how horrible charter schools are actually performing. You just awarded $71 million in taxpayer dollars to a state department  of education that has been rigging  the books. The Department should go back over Ohio’s grant application and see whether it was rigged as well.

It ‘s not only me, or the Democrats  in Ohio, or the editorial boards that are concerned about what  is happening with charters. This charter situation in Ohio is so bad that even the Republican  Auditor of State, a supporter of charter schools himself, said he was shocked to learn of your award. This is because in a recent audit he concluded that Ohio has a, “broken” system of charter schools.

Secretary Duncan, you need to be concerned when a state’s auditor and a supporter of charter schools has this type of reaction to your grant announcement.

All of these things have been widely publicized , and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Department awarded a state whose charter school office is riddled in scandal the largest sum  of money of any state.

I fear ideology has clouded good judgement in this decision, and I urge to you go back and look  at the hard data. Ifyou do, I am confident you will reconsider. There is no way this award is justified , and what bothers me the most is that it is Ohio’s children that will   suffer.

Sincerely,

Ted Strickland

Former Ohio Governor

Via Cleveland press

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