Last week, the U.S. Department of Education answered my call to strengthen oversight of Ohio’s charter schools and ensure that our tax dollars are spent educating our children, not on waste and fraud.
Ohio’s charter school system has become a disgrace on our state that is denying too many students a quality education, and defrauding taxpayers. Ohio has been called the “wild west” of charter schools.
While plenty of these schools, like Breakthrough in Cleveland and KIPP in Columbus, are thriving and offer their students a quality education, it’s clear that too many — particularly online charter schools and those operated by for-profit management companies — are not meeting the needs of our students.
Since 2001, state auditors have uncovered more than $27 million in improperly spent funds at charter schools in Ohio. These schools misspend public money at almost four times the rate of other types of public sector agencies.
It’s our children who pay the price for this mismanagement. According to a report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, students at Ohio’s charter schools lose 43 days of math instruction and 14 days of reading instruction, compared with traditional public schools in the state.
Despite this unimpressive record and history of mismanagement, last October the Department of Education awarded the state of Ohio a $71 million grant to expand largely failing charter schools.
That’s why the oversight measures I’ve called for and that the Department of Education is now putting in place are critical. The department will increase oversight by appointing an independent monitor, and creating a database to better track these schools’ performance. Charters will also have to submit budgets for review and approval, and post financial reports publically to ensure Ohioans know that their tax dollars are, in fact, being spent on educating students. And it will create a new advisory committee of parents, teachers and community members so that communities can hold these schools accountable and make sure this grant is put to good use.
These are the toughest accountability measures the Department of Education has ever placed on such a grant. This increased oversight will ensure that no federal taxpayer dollars go to schools who are focused on turning a profit instead of educating our kids. And it will make sure there is accountability for third-party management companies that are all too often used to pad the pockets of charter school operators at the expense of students.
This is not meant to punish charter schools or the many dedicated Ohioans who work there. Most of these educators are working hard to meet the needs of students, but the absence of meaningful oversight has allowed waste, fraud and abuse to fester — particularly in for-profit and online schools.
This month we’ve already seen the news that the for-profit college ITT will close its doors after a long history of abusing and misleading students. Why would we want to inject that same model into public K-12 education, when we have seen the havoc it’s wreaked on so many students and their families?
We need to make sure that our tax dollars are funding our children’s education, not fraud and abuse.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is a Democrat who represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.