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Columbus Dispatch: Did Ohio Officials Lie to Win Charter Money?

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Bill Bush and Catherine Candisky of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch raise important questions about whether Ohio Department of Education officials lied when preparing the state’s application for federal charter funds. For most of the previous years, the press across the state had been filled with stories about the charters’ poor performance, about financial scandals, about abrupt charter school closings, about the absence of transparency or accountability or oversight in this $1 billion sector. That $1 billion was siphoned away from public schools, and in far too many cases, went into the pocket of wealthy campaign contributors to the GOP.

Both federal and state officials failed in their duty to monitor the use of federal funds and to tell the truth. The federal government should have known, and the Ohio officials should have been honest. But the scandal-scarred charter sector of Ohio won the largest federal grant for charter schools: $71 million.

In applying for a federal grant, the Ohio Department of Education said it would close “ poor-performing” charter schools, touted an automatic-closure law that shuts them down, and promised that only the best-rated charter sponsors would create new schools.

But it also said that, in the 2012-13 school year, Ohio had no “poor-performing” charters, even though about a third of charters didn’t meet a single standard on their state report cards that year and 60 percent of them got D or F grades on the Performance Index, a measure of how students perform on state tests.

The grant application also failed to mention that the automatic-closure law is currently suspended and won’t return until at least the 2017-18 school year.

And those “best-rated” sponsors? Two days after filing the application, the man responsible for drafting it, David Hansen, resigned for having scrubbed data to make sponsors rate higher. All his sponsor ratings were subsequently rescinded. The grant application said that only sponsors “rated ‘ exemplary’ or ‘effective’ under the state’s quality evaluation criteria will be invited to participate.”

Troubling facts like these continue to place a cloud over Ohio’s successful bid for the $71 million, five-year federal grant. The Ohio Department of Education wants an aggressive expansion of charter schools across the state.

“The goal is for high-quality schools,” said Kim Norris, agency spokeswoman. “It will be a highly competitive process with schools applying for the grant dollars.”

The state will funnel almost all of the money to entities hoping to start new charters — including new for-profit online charters, which now rank as some of Ohio’s worst-performing schools.

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