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Ohio State Superintendent Declines $22M of the Controversial $71M Fed Charter Grant

June 22, 2017

The same week that Arne Duncan announced his upcoming exit from the office of US secretary of education in late 2015, his USDOE earmarked $249 million in charter school expansion grants, with the largest grant ($71 million) tagged for Ohio, a state with a highly questionable charter sector, as Jeff Bryant writes in October 2015 in Salon:

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s surprise announcement to leave his position in December is making headlines and driving lots of commentary, but an important story lost in the media clutter happened three days before he gave notice.

On that day, Duncan rattled the education policy world with news of a controversial grant of $249 million ($157 the first year) to the charter school industry. This announcement was controversial because, as The Washington Post reports, an audit by his department’s own inspector general found “that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing federal dollars sent to charter schools.”

Post reporter Lynsey Layton notes, “The agency’s inspector general issued a scathing report in 2012 that found deficiencies in how the department handled federal grants to charter schools between 2008 and 2011″ – in other words, during Duncan’s watch.

Even more perplexing is that the largest grant of $71 million ($32.5 the first year) is going to Ohio, the state that has the worst reputation for allowing low-performing charter schools to divert tax money away from educational purposes and do little to raise the achievement of students.

A number of Ohio officials were shocked by the news.

As a different article from The Post reports, Democratic Party Representative Tim Ryan “was alarmed” by the Education Department’s decision. Ryan called his state’s charter school sector “broken and dysfunctional.”

Ted Strickland, an ex-Governor and now Democratic candidate for a US Senate seat in Ohio, wrote Duncan a letter telling him to reconsider the Ohio grant. “Too many of Ohio’s charter schools are an embarrassment,” he states. Strickland quotes from a recent study showing charters in his state perform significantly worse than public schools. He points to a recent scandal in which the person in the state’s department of education responsible for oversight of charters had to resign because he was caught “rigging the books.”

Even Ohio Republicans are disturbed about Secretary Duncan’s generosity to charter schools in the Buckeye State. Like a parent who sees a visiting relative doling out chocolate bars to an already stimulated child, State Auditor Dave Yost quickly stated his concerns about the new charter school largesse to the media and his intention to track how the money is spent. Yost should know. An audit he conducted earlier this year found charter schools in the state misspend millions of tax dollars.

“Why is the Department rewarding this unacceptable behavior,” Strickland asked in his letter.

In response to the controversial $71 million grant, in October 2015, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and others wrote USDOE a letter asking for increased oversight for Ohio charters. In June 2016, Brown asked for even more oversight and was apparently pleased with the USDOE restrictions imposed on the Ohio charter grant by September 2016.

However, it is important to note that USDOE restricting of Ohio’s multi-million-dollar federal dish-out did not occur until Brown and others publicly objected. In fact, as Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reported in November 2015, USDOE apparently tried to excuse its failure to consider the degree of dysfunction in the Ohio charter sector because it “expedited” review of the Ohio charter grant application.

However, in interesting turn of events, in April 2017, Ohio Superintendent Paolo Demaria sent USDOE a letter to the effect that Ohio will not accept the entire $71 million for charter schools because many (most) of Ohio’s charter school sponsors have not met the state’s criteria to warrant the money, as Patrick O’Donnell of the Plain Dealer reports:

Ohio will not use $22 million of the $71 million federal charter school expansion grants it won in 2015, state Superintendent Paolo Demaria has told the U.S. Department of Education, because charter school oversight organizations here are not strong enough.

In a letter sent last week, Demaria said the state will use $49 of the $71 million over five years, not the full amount.

O’Donnell also reports the Fordham Institute’s apparently odd take on the $22 million reduction in potential federal funds. Despite the potential funding drop of 30 schools (from 100 to 70), it’s no big deal because Ohio charter start-ups are down anyway:

Ohio will not use $22 million of the $71 million federal charter school expansion grants it won in 2015, state Superintendent Paolo Demaria has told the U.S. Department of Education, because charter school oversight organizations here are not strong enough.

In a letter sent last week, Demaria said the state will use $49 of the $71 million over five years, not the full amount.

As for Senator Brown: He is glad for the reduced funding but still wary. According to O’Donnell’s article, Brown views the issue as a missed opportunity Ohio’s students for reaping the “full investment” of the federal money as a result of “fraudulent data and shady charters that cannot be trusted.” Still, it is important to note that Demaria’s reason for returning almost a third of the $71 million was a general statement of the general quality of Ohio’s charter schools– which seems to be a primary motivator for fudging the data in the first place.

At any rate, the very fact that Demaria is declining the full award bespeaks a seriousness about his role in Ohio charter school accountability, which is indeed refreshing.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

2 Comments
  1. Linda permalink

    Sen. Brown’s letter requesting the release of the money, posted at his government site, states
    “…students could benefit greatly”… from the grant. Charter schools are an abomination because they are contractor schools allowing for all of the abuses of the private sector. Public schools are an essential component of democracy and shame on Brown for failing to protect democracy in an attempt to politically, have it both ways. He is one more self-serving politician who chose to avoid the opportunity to tell Ohioans that America’s most important common good is being privatized by the oligarchs.
    Enforcement of the contractor school industry is an unnecessary expense. If contractor schools were wiped off the Ohio map, ECOT’s litigation cost to the state, estimated at $500,000, could be spent on something of value. And, contractor schools with truancy rates in excess of 65%, with abysmal performance records wouldn’t have had the opportunity to fleece Ohioans.

  2. Linda permalink

    The Gates-funded, Washington-based Public Agenda lists ODE as a “funder” of the organization (one of only 2 states). Channeling the manufactured ed crises to oligarch takeover, Public Agenda begins the process in higher ed by claiming, “Confidence in higher ed. is waning”, which matches the false narrative of of K-12- public schools are failing. Until Demaria cuts off funding to Public Agenda, it’s continued taxpayer burning.

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