Archives for category: Ohio

Stephen Dyer was in the Ohio legislature when the state’s Edchoice voucher program started as a small initiative. Since then, it has grown, despite research showing that it provides no education benefit to students while taking money away from public schools.

In this post, he announces the launch of a program to educate the public about how vouchers harm their public schools. Every dollar allotted to a voucher school is a dollar less for public schools.

As districts face huge budget cuts in the coming school years, it behooves them to defend every dollar they can so their students have all they need to succeed. That’s why the folks at Real Choice Ohio, which fought for years to help districts cope with charter school losses to great success, have started a series of workshops to help districts educate and inform parents nd their communities about the dangers of the EdChoice vouchers to their kids and other kids’ futures.

The first pillar of these conferences deals with the overall problem facing districts and the kids theiy serve. I am helping to lead this pillar, complete with Power Point presentations and I will be moderating an all-star panel on the EdChoice and voucher problem next week.

Open the post to learn how to sign up.

Stephen Dyer, who served in the Ohio legislature and is an expert in school finance, writes here that vouchers hurt poor kids and explains why. It is important to bear in mind that no state offers vouchers large enough to pay for a high-quality private school. Most voucher students attend low-quality religious schools. When anyone claims that vouchers enable poor kids to have the same choices as rich kids, they are lying.

He begins:

As has been recently reported in the Columbus Dispatch and other places, a group of public education advocates is looking to sue the state over the EdChoice voucher system — an argument I’ve been making for years.

But in the article, pro-voucher forces make a curious argument — that those seeking to undo the harm voucher do to primarily poor and special need kids are actually trying to hurt those kids.

“It’s an all-time low for government school activists to try to rip low-income and special-needs students out of their schools right now,” said Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values.

“It’s clear that this special-interest group cares less about what’s best for kids, and more about their own narrow social agenda. Ohio’s EdChoice program is a lifeline to tens of thousands of families. It allows underprivileged and underserved children the opportunity to find an education that best meets their needs.”

First of all, it’s not “government school”; it’s “public school”, which means our school. None other than Thomas Jefferson described it this way in the Land Ordiannce of 1785. “Public school” were Jefferson’s words.

But I digress.

Here’s the problem. Yes. It’s true that poor and special needs students get vouchers and attend private schools using them. However, in order for that to happen, poor and special needs students in the public schools who don’t take the voucher are left with fewer resources for their educations because the vouchers exist.

This is why, for example, as a state legislator I always voted against the special needs voucher that eventually became the Jon Peterson Voucher program. Because it set aside 1/3 of the money the state spent on special needs students to serve 3 percent of the special needs kids. So the voucher program would leave 97 percent of special needs students with only 2/3 of the money they needed.

Let’s look at Parma with its 47% economically disadvanatged and nearly 2/3 minority populations.

Prior to losing voucher money and students, kids in Parma were slated to receive $13,663 per pupil in state and local funding for their educations. However, once all the vouchers were removed from the district, along with the students, kids in Parma only got $13,426. That’s a $236 per pupil loss in total aid, which means there wasn’t enough locally raised revenue to make up for the revenue these kids lost to the state’s voucher programs.

So while some poor and special needs students certainly got vouchers, far more poor and special needs students in Parma got $236 less than they needed because of the vouchers.

In fact, in nearly 3 of 4 Ohio school districts, every poor and special needs student got less overall funding because of the voucher…

So vouchers either directly harm poor and special needs students by cutting their overall education fudning, or force poorer communities to tax themselves at higher rates to make up for the loss of state aid from the state’s voucher programs — in clear violation of the Ohio Supreme Court’s four rulings.

Oh yeah, and in 8 of 10 Ohio school districts where private voucher providers reside, the school district outperforms the private option by an average of 27 percentage points. When privates outperform districts, it’s in 2 of 10 cases and by only 9 percentage points.

Denis Smith, former official in the Ohio State Education Departnent, describes here the commitment of the Founding Fathers of the nation and Ohio to “common schools” or public schools.

In our own day, however, radical libertarians—anarchists, in fact—have opposed the Founders’ vision and sought to replace the common schools with consumer choice. In place of the goal of equality of educational opportunity, these anarchists—such as Jeb Bush and Betsy DeVos—have promoted individual choice through privately managed charter schools and vouchers for religious schools.

The anarchists are repudiating our history and traditions in their efforts to eliminate any sense of social responsibility and they do so cynically, claiming that they are doing it “for the kids” who will be abandoned as the rich get richer and the poor get vouchers are low-quality schools.

This is the incredible but true story of the improbable rise and precipitate collapse of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which sucked nearly $1 billion out of public schools in Ohio over nearly 20 years. It was written by James Pogue and published by Mother Jones in 2018.

Read this article in full.

Pogue describes ECOT’s founder William Lager as a “washed-up lobbbyisr” with big dreams, scribbling on napkins in a Waffle House in Columbus, Ohio. He succeeded in creating a virtual charter school that soon became the largest charter school in Ohio. He created related businesses to supply the goods and services for his growing business. He gave generous sums to politicians. Governor John Kasich loved ECOT. He was a commencement speaker.

So was Jeb Bush, who saw ECOT as the future of American education. He was a commencement speaker too. The state auditor gave ECOT an award for the quality of its audits.

However, as ECOT’s enrollment grew, so did its problems. Its attrition rate was staggering. Only 40% of its students graduated. Parents complained to state officials that their kids weren’t learning anything. But state officials, most of whom received donations from Lager, didn’t listen.

Classes began in September 2000, and by the end of the school year ECOT had 3,000 students and had become the state’s largest charter, bigger than many of Ohio’s public school districts, according to Lager. “We were given five months from the day that our charter was approved to the first day of school,” he wrote. “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t plan a wedding in that period of time (and given my track record with marriages, probably shouldn’t!).”

It soon became obvious there were problems. Jim Petro, then the state auditor, issued a brutal assessment of the school’s first year, finding that “ECOT did not have any written policies or procedures for enrolling students,” that it exhibited an “inability to provide computers to students at the beginning of the school year,” and that in two months there were “106 instances in which the reported student was either less than 5 years old or greater than 21 years old, contrary to legislated age requirements.” It also found that the school received almost $1 million in the month of September 2000 as payment for the students it claimed to be educating, although that month “only 7 students logged-in to one of the available computer-based instruction systems.” In other words, during the first month of operations, only about 1 of every 300 ECOT students managed to access Lager’s revolutionary new online education program.

Astonishingly, and despite the auditor’s conclusion that the school was paid an additional $1 million the following month for students it couldn’t account for, ECOT was allowed to carry on…

By 2006, ECOT was growing into a behemoth, and Lager was growing rich. His private companies eventually billed ECOT for at least $153 million, most of it taxpayer dollars. These companies were largely insulated from state oversight. In 2002, a law put forth by Republican legislators had given oversight authority of certain charter schools to chartering agencies, like Lucas County ESC, which were left largely responsible for monitoring the schools that paid them. Charter management companies like Altair weren’t—and still aren’t—required to report what percentage of the state funds they received was paid out in individual salaries. But two early state audits show that at least in the first two years of ECOT’s operation, more than $1 million in fees paid to Altair went to Lager personally.

He began to pour that money into politics, donating $1.9 million over the course of 18 years, mostly to Republican candidates. Some high-level ECOT or Altair employees also frequently donated to pro-charter candidates, according to one former ECOT administrator and state records. “I was bothered by it, to a degree, but I stayed out of the politics and just did my job,” he said. “That was what I was getting paid for, and I didn’t care about getting involved with Mr. Lager or any of that other stuff.”

In one instance reported by the Akron Beacon Journal in 2006, Lager gave $10,000 over a four-day period to the gubernatorial campaign of the former auditor, Jim Petro, who had since been elected as the state’s attorney general. Four ECOT or Altair employees, along with their spouses, each donated $5,000 to Petro during the same four-day span—totaling at least $50,000 from ECOT and Altair staff during a primary campaign. One couple that contributed $24,500 had never donated to a state or federal campaign until that year. Petro lost but remained the attorney general. And soon, despite his lacerating assessment of ECOT’s first year, he gave the commencement address at the school’s 2006 graduation ceremony…

Across the country, many state legislatures were increasingly permissive of charter schools, and their enrollments were skyrocketing. From 2006 to 2016, they would nearly triple their enrollments nationwide, from 1.2 million students to 3.1 million. In Ohio, the system had grown from almost nothing to 70,000 students in just 10 years, and the charter lobby was becoming one of the most influential in the state. “There were a lot of powerful lobbies in Columbus,” Stephen Dyer, who was elected to the Ohio House in 2006, told me. “You had coal, you had general energy companies, you had nursing homes. I never saw any sector get everything they wanted except charters.”

Amid the national wave that overturned the GOP majority in 2006, Ted Strickland, a Democrat who wanted to get a handle on charters, was elected as Ohio’s first Democratic governor in 25 years. But a sudden flood of almost $900,000 in campaign cash from a group headed by Betsy DeVos, who long before becoming Trump’s education secretary was active in pushing the most radical approaches to school deregulation, helped to keep Ohio’s House of Representatives in Republican hands. Over the four years of Strickland’s tenure, charter industry allies in the Legislature blocked many of the governor’s attempts. “I don’t think all political contributions are efforts to do something nefarious,” Strickland told me. “But in this case, I think it was so obvious that these schools were so bad and were failing and had such lax oversight. I cannot give the Republican Legislature the benefit of the doubt and say that they did not know.”

“When you have a situation where public moneys are used to enrich individuals,” he added, “who then in turn support the politicians that support the policies that enrich them—it may not be illegal, but I think that fits the definition of corruption…”

In June 2010, Jeb Bush flew to Columbus to give the commencement speech at ECOT’s graduation. It was just one among several efforts to boost Lager’s business. The next year, Bush would push for increased funds for e-schooling in Ohio—never mind that ECOT’s test scores were some of the worst in the state, worse than those in all but 14 of 609 Ohio school districts. And in the months following his commencement address, Bush would convene a Digital Learning Council with support from major tech companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The council—which Lager sat on—contributed to laws in Florida, Utah, and Wisconsin that helped steer public money to online education companies. Nationwide, online charters would soon educate an estimated 200,000 students a year, even as one study of their performance compared the educational shortfalls they produced to a student losing “72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math” out of a normal school year. “The US education system currently operates as an eight-track tape in an iPod world,” Bush said, after Gov. John Kasich signed a 2011 bill encouraging e-learning in the state. “Ohio is on a path to transform education for the 21st century…”

“You will have had no other speaker more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich,” Lager told the crowd as he introduced the governor in 2011. “With his help, we see nothing but clear sailing.”

ECOT was a huge financial success but an educational failure. Students were counted as enrolled if they logged in for only one minute in a day.

Students, in fact, weren’t required to participate in online classroom learning at all, according to another ECOT official’s testimony regarding the 2015-16 school year. (Educational requirements could be satisfied through field trips or homework.)…

Only in recent months [2018] have Ohio politicians begun to distance themselves from the school. Last August, the state Republican Party returned $38,000 in donations from Lager and another $38,000 from his lieutenant at Altair, Melissa Vasil. Yost put Lager on warning in January by publicly suggesting that the ECOT founder, who over the years has purchased a $3.7 million home in Key West, Florida, along with a lakeside retreat and properties around Columbus, could be expected to personally repay some of the tens of millions of dollars ECOT owes the state. A few days later, a framed photo of Yost was reportedly removed without explanation from the lobby at ECOT’s headquarters.

“I don’t think there’s any conscionable reason why Lager should make the profits that he makes off of educating kids in public schools,” a former ECOT administrator told me. He defended his accomplishments at ECOT and said that for many children he worked with, online schooling really was the best option—safer for kids who had been bullied or threatened by gangs, and more flexible for students whose families might be transient.

But those successes came at the cost of more than $1 billion in public funding, much of it diverted from better performing Ohio schools, and at least 15 percent of that money—about $150 million—was paid to Lager’s private companies, subject to almost zero oversight or transparency. In 2017, Columbus’ public schools posted a four-year graduation rate of 74 percent. ECOT’s was 40 percent. Nevertheless, that year Columbus schools sacrificed $11 million in funding—about 3 percent of their total state allocation—to ECOT.

In January 2018, ECOT collapsed, owing the state $80 million.

Betsy DeVos is still promoting virtual charters like ECOT, where students learn nothing.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, virtual charters are promoting their inferior product to gullible parents.

Perhaps you recall that Republicans used to favor local control of public schools by elected boards. That time is now gone, since Republicans bought into the idea of privatization of public funds. Now they support state takeovers, even though there is no evidence that state takeovers have ever been successful, and a good deal of evidence (see the Michigan “Education Achievement Authority” and the Tennessee “Achievement School District”) that they have failed.

In Ohio, as Bill Phillis reports here, the state Supreme Court just approved a state takeover of school districts where test scores are low.

Ohio Supreme Court strikes a major blow to local community control of school districts and the rule of law

On May 13 the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the egregious HB 70 of the 131st General Assembly. HB 70 removes the control of certain school district from the elected board of education to an appointed entity. HB 70 was enacted in a short timeframe in violation of Article II section 15(c) which requires, “Every bill shall be considered by each house on three different days, unless two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house.” Additionally, the enactment of HB 70 violated Article II section 15(d) which requires that “No bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.”

HB 70, as introduced, provided for wraparound services as a means to help low-performing districts to improve student outcomes. The amendment, which was void of public input and the opportunity for public input, is totally antithetical to the purpose of the original bill.

Justice Donnelly, in a dissent, clearly shows how the legislature violated the Constitution. The dissent provided a chronology of events that led to the unlawful enactment of HB 70.

Laura Chapman reports on budget cuts to schools in Ohio, which hurt public schools but protect charters and vouchers.

She writes:

Bad news from Ohio again. Not quite Lord of the Flies (fiction or non-fiction truth)

This week, Governor DeWine is proposing $355 million in K-12 education cuts with $300 million coming out of foundation aid to local school districts from the current state budget that expires in July.

While public education accounts for about 42% of state expenditures, it will absorb about 45.8% of the loss.

He has not asked private schools that take public funds to sacrifice anything. This proposed cut will exacerbate the underfunding of public schools in favor of EdChoice vouchers that raid public school dollars for private schools.

In addition public school funds should not be supporting charter schools that are the pet project of billionaires who think they are entitled to raid public dollars for their preferred undemocratic system of education.

This proposed cut will shift a large portion of public school funding from the state to local districts. I have not looked at all of DeWine’s proposed budget cuts but these sure look like they are designed to hit public schools and favor private schools as well as charters schools that have declared they are eligible for small business loans, these likely to be foregiven.

If you are in Ohio, please open the link below and follow-up with emails to the people who are planning for this cut to be passed well before school starts. Start with this link:

https://mailchi.mp/ac594ace4a33/action-alert-355-million-in-education-cuts-in-ohio?e=ba8653e702

Perhaps you have never heard of State Senator Andrew Brenner. Read Denis Smith’s recent post about Brenner, and you will learn about an elected official who is “radioactive,” “disingenuous,” tone-deaf, and possibly the dumbest elected official in Ohio.

While chairing the education committee, he described public education as “socialist.”

But that’s only a small part of his infamy.

Smith writes:

Yes, the ever-radioactive Andrew Brenner who with his meanness and bountiful bile is capable of producing Strontium-90 by the megaton, set off yet another chain reaction through his defense of his wife Sara Marie Brenner and her comments about state policies intended to deal with the pandemic.

It was only fitting that Brenner, whose use of social media to heap scorn on his opponents and ridicule those not of the lunatic fringe, set off a barrage from critics when he responded to a posting by his wife:

“This actually feels like Hitler’s Germany,” Sara Marie posted on her Facebook page.

“Sen. Brenner responded: “We will never allow that to happen in Ohio.””

Brenner’s targeting of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and state health director Dr. Amy Acton generated this retort from Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch.

That the comments came on Holocaust Remembrance Day and that Acton is Jewish ensured their enshrinement in the crowded hall of fame for political stupidity.

With Brenner, the half-life of his tone deafness, aka political stupidity, is another measure of his increasing radioactivity among Ohio voters.

Lest we forget about Brenner’s serial bad behavior, let’s examine a few milestones in his less than illustrious history as a member of the Ohio General Assembly.

In 2014, as part of a blog post, Brenner made national headlines when he wrote that “Public education in America is socialism… Privatize everything and the results will speak for themselves.” He must have forgotten about other public functions, including our socialist public safety departments, socialist public libraries, socialist highway department, and the socialist state health department headed by Dr. Acton.

In 2015, Brenner compared Planned Parenthood to Nazis. (There’s something about Andy and Nazis, isn’t there?)

He is a pro-gun zealot, of course.

With a guy like this shaping education policy, you can understand why Ohio is in trouble.

Denis Smith wrote the following, to commemorate a date that is notorious to those of us who recall the Kent State Massacre, when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed college student protesters:

May 4, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of four students at Kent State University. The shootings by a contingent of the Ohio National Guard, which were ordered into the city by Ohio Governor James Rhodes, were in response to rioting that took place on the campus in protest to the escalation of the Vietnam War and the destruction of the campus ROTC building.

At the time, many people felt that Rhodes inflamed the situation when he said that the students were worse than the “Brown Shirts” of the Hitler era. Rhodes, who holds the distinction of being one of only seven four-term governors in the history of this nation, is still a divisive figure a half-century after the Kent State Massacre, where in addition to the four dead, nine other students were also severely wounded and one paralyzed.

In December 1982, a 6 foot- 6 inch tall bronze statue of Rhodes was dedicated on the grounds of the State Capitol in Columbus. It didn’t take long for the statue to be vandalized and hit by a car in 1983, according to Wiki. It was later moved and placed in front of the entrance of the Rhodes State Office Tower, where it remains.

Which brings me to this nugget.

We relocated to the Columbus area five years after the statue was dedicated. In the early 1990s, someone told me that there was a legend about some type of secret message that was contained inside the bronze statute. After Rhodes’ death in 2011, that rumor was confirmed.

Here is an excerpt from the Columbus Monthly Magazine of November 2019:

A Bronze Bombshell

“When James Rhodes died in 2001, a longtime Capitol Square rumor was confirmed. It turned out that the 700-pound bronze effigy of the four-term governor in front of the Rhodes Tower includes a hidden tribute to the four students killed at Kent State University in May 1970.

“There is in fact a message engraved into the bronze on the inside of the statue that makes a statement about the Kent State shootings and the victims,” Ron Dewey, former owner of Studio Foundry in Cleveland, told the defunct Columbus alternative weekly The Other Paper, declining to reveal exactly what the message said. —Dave Ghose”

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kent State, I for one would love to know what the sculptor Gary Ross engraved on the inside of the statue. Wouldn’t you?

If there is an update to this story from six months ago, I would love to know further details. How many folks would be itching to write the story about hidden hieroglyphics inside this statue?

Denis Smith posted this on his Facebook page. You can see the statue of Governor Rhodes there.

Patrick O’Donnell is one of the best education journalists in the nation. He has covered charter and cyber charter scandals in Cleveland and in Ohio without fear or favor. Ohio, as you may have noticed, is awash in charter corruption.

O’Donnell worked for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer until last weekend, when the newspaper pushed out its leading journalists and told them they could cover far-flung areas if they want to stay employed. The order from on high essentially fired union journalists and gutted the newspaper’s coverage of Cleveland.

The Plain-Dealer is part of Advance Publications, which is owned by the billionaire Newhouse family. Advance is engaged in cost-cutting that will destroy local journalism. It’s all about the Almighty Dollar.

Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio is a former legislator and is currently the most astute analyst of the legislature’s efforts to undermine public education.

In this post, he describes the legislature’s current approach to vouchers.

He writes:

Yesterday, Ohio’s legislature passed their COVID-19 emergency package. And while there were some much needed and positive things in it (no standardized tests this year, no report cards), the bill also settled the contentious debate over what to do with next year’s EdChoice perofrmance-based voucher program.

A bit of background. Next year, due to legislative changes, 1,227 school buildings would have been labeled by the state as “failing”. Families with students in those buildings could therefore receive publicly subsidized private school tuition vouchers to leave these schools. The problem for districts is the way this program is funded, the state removes state revenue meant for the students in the districts and instead provides a private tuition subsidy — an amount that on average is abot $1,300 more per pupil than the student would have received from the state if he or she had remained in the school district. This forces many districts to use local revenue to make up the difference.

Also, it is obvious that more than 1/3 of Ohio school buildings are not “failing” students, as the current 1,227 building calculation would conclude. And legislators on all sides of the aisle agreed that the state report card that made this determination is fatally flawed.

However, families were gearing up by Feb. 1 to request vouchers for next school year based on the expanded school building list. The legislature put off that deadline to April 1 and included $10 million in state funding to help offset the cost of increased vouchers. They were hoping to hash out a plan to address this issue before that date.

Then COVID-19 hit and everything changed.

The solution included in yesterday’s bill was essentially freezing the number of buildings at this year’s 500+ buildings, and limiting new vouchers to siblings of current recipients and incoming kindergarten students, as well as any 8th graders who want to take the voucher in high school.

But it’s all based on this current school year’s building list — which is still about double the amount of the 2018-2019 school year, but is far fewer than the 1,227 it could have been.

This solution also did not include the $10 million state infusion to help districts cope with the increase in vouchers.

So the immediate question became: Will this “freeze” really be a cost-neutral freeze on the program? Or do we still need an infusion of state cash to offset new vouchers?

Looking at the data, it appears we could be looking at an increase in voucher funding next year, but it could also be cost neutral. It all depends on how the math works out.

According to the latest state funding printouts, there are currently 3,264 kindergarten voucher students. In addition, there are an average of 2,324 voucher students in 12th grade this year.

The kindergarten students cost $4,650 per year. The 2,324 12th graders cost $6,000 a year.

When advocates of vouchers assert that all children should have the “same choices” as rich people, they are lying. The private schools that Trump, Gates, and others of their wealth choose do not charge $6,000 a year. They charge $30,000-$60,000 a year.

Ohio is offering a subsidy to religious schools, including to children who have never attended a public schools. These schools do not necessarily require that teachers are certified. The education they offer is typically inferior to public education.

Ninety percent of the children of Ohio choose to attend public schools. Their legislators ignore them.