Archives for category: Ohio

Jan Resseger writes here about the tussle in the legislature over the Ohio education budget. Funding was increased for public schools, but funding for charters and vouchers was also increased. And taxes were cut. Republican supporters of public schools saved the day from the voracious privatizers, led by Andrew Brenner, who is hostile to public schools.

Resseger writes:

The Ohio Constitution defines public schools as an institution embodying our mutual responsibility to each other as fellow citizens and to Ohio’s children.  The budget conference committee’s restoration of the Fair School Funding Plan, even if limited only to the upcoming biennium, will restore adequate funding to the schools that serve our state’s 1.7 million public school students and will significantly equalize children’s educational opportunity across our state’s 610 school districts.

However, the expansion of vouchers and charter schools opens the door for future growth of school privatization.  Ohio’s parents and citizens who believe in a strong system of public education will have work to do to preserve the Fair School Funding Plan beyond the current two-year limit and to prevent the rapid expansion of vouchers and charters at the expense of public schools in future state budgets.

This post appeared on the Network for Public Education website.

Paul Huang and Olivia Peebles: It’s time to pass a Fair School Funding Plan

This op-ed from Cleveland.com was written by a pair of students from Shaker Heights High School. Paul Huang is a senior; Olivia Peebles in a junior. Both are members of the Shaker Heights High School Student Group on Race Relations. In this op-ed, they lay out a defense of their high school against Ohio’s flawed school rating system.

In Shaker, we are fortunate to have educational opportunities ranging from honors courses and AP/IB classes to vocational training. We are also fortunate to have an administration and staff that strives to close achievement, opportunity and wealth gaps that stem from systemic racism.

Yet the Shaker Heights City School District has three so-called “failing” schools and received an overall “C” average on the Ohio Department of Education’s annual report card.

The school report card is based heavily on standardized achievement data, which is linked to socioeconomic status. Standardized tests do not consider the specific challenges some districts have, such as high poverty.

Schools with larger numbers of Black and brown students or children whose families have low incomes are more likely to be deemed “failing.”

The report card also grades districts on closing a “racial achievement gap,” without considering the opportunity barriers communities of color face due to years of segregation, discrimination and exploitation.

When the state considers a school to be “failing,” it can send the district’s funding to private schools via vouchers. This gap-closing metric actually widens achievement gaps by underfunding the schools that need extra resources to close them.

Read the complete op-ed here.

You can view the post at this link : https://networkforpubliceducation.org/blog-content/paul-huang-and-olivia-peebles-its-time-to-pass-a-fair-school-funding-plan/

Apparently, the voucher schools were embarrassed by the Ohio study showing that kids who use vouchers lose ground academically.

There were two ways to respond to that finding: 1) improve instruction in the voucher schools by requiring them to hire certified teachers; 2) obscure the data.

The voucher lobby chose the second route.

The Republican-dominated legislature is now vastly expanding the state’s failing voucher program. But a few years ago, it decided that voucher schools would no longer be required to give the same exams that students in public schools are required to take. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute worried about the change, because it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to draw comparisons between students in public schools and their peers in private and religious schools.

That’s the goal.

Many other states that offer vouchers allow those schools not to take the state exams. Some, like Florida, expect no accountability from voucher schools. Others ask those schools to administer an “equivalent” standardized test, which makes it impossible to compare voucher schools to public schools.

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

I said I would not reproduce blogs, with rare exceptions. Jan Resseger is that one rare exception.

In this post, she explains how the costs of vouchers are destroying and defunding Ohio’s public schools.

Writing in ohiocapital.com, Jeanne Melvin and Denis Smith denounced the central role that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute plays in directing education policy in Ohio. TBF is the think tank of the Ohio Republican Party; that party has controlled the state in recent years. It is curious that TBF directs education policy in Ohio since TBF is based in Washington, D.C.

Melvin is a parent activist, and Smith worked for the Ohio Department of Education.

In Ohio, TBF has been a strong advocate for high-stakes testing and school privatization. It has pushed charter schools and other conservative reforms in Ohio.

As the article says, TBF is an advocacy organization, not a think tank. Its policy positions are aligned with other conservative organizations, still promoting the failed reforms of the past two decades, unable to imagine schools that are not subject to high-stakes testing, unable to imagine schools that are not governed by carrots-and-sticks. TBF is also a charter school authorizer and collects a percentage of the state revenue for every student who enrolls in one of their charter schools. Many of their charter schools have failed. Most charter schools in Ohio are rated low-performing by the state.

Jan Resseger writes that the Ohio Legislature is up to its familiar tricks.

While no one was looking, it passed more voucher legislation, again brazenly violating the state constitution, which requires public funding of public schools and forbids public funding of private schools. Let us not forget that former Governor John Kasich was instrumental in this violation of the public trust.

Five years ago right at the end of a spring session of the Ohio Legislature, a group of state senators added a long amendment to House Bill 70, which was about expanding the number of full service, wraparound community learning centers—schools with medical and social services located right in the school. The amendment had nothing to do with the subject of the original bill. The amendment’s purpose was to establish the state takeover of the school district in Youngstown and set up a procedure for state takeovers of other so-called “failing” school districts. A deal had been cut. No opponent testimony was permitted. The Ohio Senate passed the amended HB 70 and sent it back for quick approval by the Ohio House. Within hours, Governor John Kasich had signed it, and without public input, an appointed Academic Distress Commission supplanted the elected school board in Youngstown.

This time the subject is vouchers.

Last spring, just as everything shut down due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, both houses of the Ohio Legislature debated changes in the EdChoice voucher program and came up with two separate bills. EdChoice eligibility is currently described by legislators as “performance-based.” The state designates EdChoice schools by these schools’ low ratings on the state’s school district report card, which everybody agrees is flawed. Last spring the program was expected to double in size. At angry hearings, school districts complained because EdChoice vouchers are funded through something called “the school district deduction.” The House plan would have funded the vouchers out of the state budget; the Senate plan kept the school district deduction.

Read the rest of this sorry story. It is especially sorry since legislators already know that vouchers in Ohio do not improve test scores; they actually drag them down. For shame!

What is the state of Ohio paying for charters and vouchers? From state data and evaluations, we know that neither sector performs as well as the state’s public schools. The legislature likes to fund failure.

Bill Phillis, who retired as deputy state superintendent and is expert about school finance, has the answer:

Current Cost of School Choice

The cost of school choice borne by the state and school districts is enormous. Public school leaders and advocates should be alarmed.
Ohio has been private school-friendly beginning a half century ago. In HB 166, the state provides private schools with $139,995,470 for administrative cost reimbursement and $309,878,268 for auxiliary services, for a total of $449,873,738. One half billion!

Additional direct state subsidies for charter schools and vouchers in HB 166 for FY 21 and FY 22 include:   

           


Charter facilities                                                $40,000,000 
 Quality charter schools                                  $60,000,000               
Public charter schools                                     $14,000,000               
EdChoice expansion                                      $178,240,758              
Choice programs                                                $9,780,309                               Total                                                $302,021,067

Hence, the direct state appropriations for private schools, charters and vouchers in FY 21 and FY 22 total $751,894,805.

If the deductions from school districts in FY 22 are equal to the deductions in FY 21 for vouchers and charters, the total will be $2,352,881,306. Therefore, the grand total of tax dollars going to private schools and charters in FY 21 and FY 22 is $3,104,776,111.

Charter school deductions from school districts started with $10,784,924 in FY 99 and escalated each year to $929,884,915 in FY 15. Since FY 15, the total charter deduction has reduced slowly to $827,136,047 in the current school year. Vouchers started in 2008 with $42,355,792 in deductions and have escalated to $349,304,605 in the current year.

HB 166 is set to expand EdChoice vouchers exponentially. The legislature gave a one-year “freeze” in the expansion but the choice community will no doubt prevail in the expansion. 

The EdChoice litigation effort is designed to outlaw the EdChoice voucher scheme.
William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 | ohioeanda@sbcglobal.netwww.ohiocoalition.org

Bill Phillis, founder of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding reports that an ECOT insider has agreed to help the state in its effort to recoup some of the millions it lost by paying the low-performing virtual charter school for almost 20 years.

He writes:

Former ECOT treasurer willing to help press state claims against the ECOT Man, William Lager


The Attorney General asked the court to approve a settlement with the former treasurer of ECOT according to a memorandum filed by the Attorney General. The settlement would drop charges against the former ECOT treasurer in exchange for her providing evidence for the state’s case against Bill Lager, the ECOT Man. The former treasurer has indicated that ECOT’s board was not apprised of its legal rights and relevant facts when it approved contracts with Lager’s companies.


The claims against Lager pursuant to illegal contracts total $161,602,806. Lager also bilked the taxpayers more than $100 million for funds wrongfully received from the state. Over the nearly two decades of collecting money for phantom students, ECOT’s illegal “take” might have been in the hundreds of millions.


In the charter industry, boards are typically puppets whose strings are pulled by the charter operator. This is a typical scenario: a profit seeking individual or group shops for a sponsor. After being authorized (sponsored), the individual/group sets up a charter school and appoints a board. In most cases, the board is controlled by the operator-just the opposite of what the relationship ought to be.


State officials (governors, legislators, auditors, attorney generals, state superintendents and Ohio Department of Education personnel) should be embarrassed that they didn’t nip this ECOT fraud in the bud. ECOT is the tip of the iceberg in charter fraud. Charter students have been robbed of high quality educational opportunities and the taxpayers have been bilked via the charter industry. State officials have enacted legislation that permits such corruption.

Businessman William Lager launched “The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow” in 2000. Over nearly 20 years, he collected $1 billion from the taxpayers of Ohio, despite the fact that ECOT had the lowest graduation rate in the nation, high attrition, and low scores. Lager created related businesses to which he gave contracts for services. In 2019, he declared bankruptcy rather than pay multimillion dollar fines to the state because of inflated enrollments. Jeb Bush was a commencement speaker one year, Governor Kasich another year. It was great while it lasted: for Lager.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Inadequacy writes:

The ECOT Man: no fiduciary responsibility and no conflict of interest.

William Lager, the ECOT Man, is being sued by the state for recovery of funds ECOT gained illegally. Lager created Altair Learning Management to manage ECOT along with IQ Innovation support services. He also engaged a company owned by his daughter for public relations purposes.

In a recent filing with the court, Mr. Lager argues that no conflict of interest existed in this arrangement.


He founded ECOT, Altair and IQ Innovation. Lager’s daughter’s PR firm provided services for marketing and PR. No conflict of interest here!
Mr. Lager also argues that in his role in the operation of ECOT, he had no fiduciary responsibility. He says he had no access to or authority over the public funds ECOT received.


Right!

Lager did make some legitimate points in his filing that should be of interest to taxpayers. He indicates that ECOT had received awards for excellence from the State Auditor and that State Auditor had been a graduation speaker at ECOT.


That state officials have been negligent in holding charter operators accountable is well known.