Archives for category: Ohio

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.

Bill Phillis, founder of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Advocacy, is a retired state superintendent in the state. He has focused like a laser on the importance of funding public education equitably and adequately. He writes here about the staggering cost of privatizing public money to pay for charters, virtual charters, and vouchers. This is money deducted from the public schools, which outperform both charters and vouchers and the failing virtual charter industry.

He writes:




The direct state subsidies to private schools and school choice programs will cost taxpayers $751,894,805 in FY 21 and FY 22; additionally, $2,352, 881,306 will be deducted from school districts for vouchers and charters





The total direct state budget appropriations in HB 166 for private school subsidies, charter and voucher programs in FY 21 and FY 22 are $751,894,805. $344,027,972 of the appropriations is in the General Revenue section of the budget and the rest is in non-General Revenue sections. This $751,894,805 is in addition to $2,352,881,306 that will be deducted from school districts, assuming that about the same amount is deducted in FY 22 as in FY 21.


Therefore the grand total of taxpayer revenue for private schools and school choice programs in FY 21 and FY 22 will be $3,104,776,111. The cost of transportation that is incurred by school districts for school choice programs is in addition.


The FY 21 and FY 22 direct state appropriation line items in HB 166 for private school subsidies, and voucher and charter school programs are listed here.


**flows through districts from a direct state subsidy
The direct state subsidies to private schools and school choice programs will cost taxpayers $751,894,805 in FY 21 and FY 22; additionally, $2,352, 881,306 will be deducted from school districts for vouchers and charters

The total direct state budget appropriations in HB 166 for private school subsidies, charter and voucher programs in FY 21 and FY 22 are $751,894,805. $344,027,972 of the appropriations is in the General Revenue section of the budget and the rest is in non-General Revenue sections. This $751,894,805 is in addition to $2,352,881,306 that will be deducted from school districts, assuming that about the same amount is deducted in FY 22 as in FY 21.

Therefore the grand total of taxpayer revenue for private schools and school choice programs in FY 21 and FY 22 will be $3,104,776,111. The cost of transportation that is incurred by school districts for school choice programs is in addition.

The FY 21 and FY 22 direct state appropriation line items in HB 166 for private school subsidies, and voucher and charter school programs are listed here.

**flows through districts from a direct state subsidy

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a report on Ohio charters, claiming that they were very successful. (TBF is a rightwing organization that supports charters and vouchers.) The Columbus Dispatch wrote that the report demonstrated that charter schools in Ohio are more successful than the state’s public schools. But Stephen Dyer reviewed the report and concluded that its findings are based on cherrypicking schools and manipulating data. In fact, he writes, Ohio’s charter sector continues to be low-performing compared to the state’s public schools, whose students lose funding to charters. The state has recently taken almost $900 million annually from its public schools to pay for a mediocre charter sector.

Dyer is a former state legislator who has written often about the charter industry. He is now Director of Government Relations, Communications and Marketing at the Ohio Education Association. (I served on the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute from 1998-2009).

He writes:

Fordham Strikes Again

Cherry picking schools; manipulating data; grasping at straws

Look, the Fordham Institute has been improving lately, calling for more charter school oversight and talking a good game. But I guess sometimes old habits die hard, and in Ohio – the cradle of the for-profit charter school movement – those habits tend to linger especially long.

Take the group’s latest report – The Impact of Ohio Charter Schools on Student Outcomes, 2016-2019 – is yet another attempt to make Ohio’s famously poor performing charter school sector seem not quite as bad (though I give them kudos for admitting the obvious – that for-profit operators don’t do a good job educating kids and we need continued tougher oversight of the sector).

But folks, really. On the whole, Ohio charter schools are not very good. For example, of all the potential A-F grades charters could have received since that system was adopted in the 2012-2013 school year, Ohio charter schools have received more Fs than all other grades combined.

So how could the Fordham report claim, as the Columbus Dispatch headline writers put it: “Students at Ohio charter schools show greater academic gains”?

Simple.

Fordham ignored all but a fraction of the Ohio charter schools in operation during the FY16-FY19 school years, including Ohio’s scandalously poor performing e-schools (yes, ECOT was still running then), the state’s nationally embarrassing dropout recovery charter schools (which have difficulty graduating even 10 percent of their students in 8 years), and the state’s special education schools – some of whom have been cited for habitually billing taxpayers for students they never had.

In other words, they only looked at the best possible charter clusters in the state. And even though they essentially ignored the worst actors in the state (effectively ignoring how more than ½ of all charter students perform), the “performance gains” they point to are not impressive.

For example, “Students attending charter schools from grades 4 to 8 improved from the 30th percentile on state math and English language arts exams to about the 40th percentile. High school students showed little or no gains on end-of-course exams.”

Really? A not-even-10-percentile improvement? And none in high school? That’s it?

How about this: “Attending a charter school in high school had no impact on the likelihood a student would receive a diploma.”

So we spend $828 million a year sending state money to charters that could go to kids in local public schools to have literally zero impact on attaining a diploma?

Egad.

Another problem: the report says charter students have better attendance rates. No word on whether the fact all charter students must be bused by local school districts, which in turn don’t have to bus district students, had any impact on that metric.

(Hint: it does.)

The report found better performance from charter students in at least one of the math or English standardized tests in 5 of Ohio’s 8 major urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown). Only in Columbus did they outperform the district in both reading and math.

The report ignores that ECOT took more kids from Columbus in these years than any other charter school in Columbus. And, of course, those kids did far worse than Columbus students.

But even cherry picking students. And data. And methodology, Fordham only found slightly better performance in one of two tests the study examined (again, Ohio requires tests in many subjects, but I digress) in 5 urban districts, better performance in both tests in 1 and no better performance in Cincinnati and Toledo, which lost about $500 million in state revenue to charters during these 4 years the study examined.

Of course, the study also ignored that about ½ of all charter school students do NOT come from the major urban districts, including large percentages of students in many of the brick and mortar schools Fordham examined for this study. For example, about 30 percent of Breakthrough Schools students in Cleveland don’t come from Cleveland. Yet Breakthrough’s performance is always only compared with Cleveland.

Ohio charter school performance isn’t complicated. Overall, it’s really not good, especially when you look at the approximately 50 percent of students who attend online, dropout recovery or special needs schools. Are there exceptions? Of course. But here’s what the most recent data tell us:

  • More than 34% of Ohio public school graduates have a college degree within 6 years. Just 12.7% of charter school graduates do
  • More than 58% of Ohio public school graduates are enrolled in college within two years; only 37.2% of Ohio charter school graduates are.

Why is this important? Because if charter schools performed the same as Ohio’s public schools, 750 more charter school students would have college degrees. Why does that matter? Because a college degree will allow you to make about $1 million more during your lifetime than not having it. So it can be said that Ohio charter schools are costing Ohioans about $750 million in potential earnings, just from one class of students!

Some more:

  • The average dropout recovery charter school has less than 0.5% of its students earning an industry recognized credential within 9 years and less than 0.2% of those students earn at least 3 dual enrollment credits within 4 years.
  • In 52 of the state’s 68 dropout recovery charter schools, no kids earned at least 3 dual enrollment credits within 4 years
  • In 33 of the state’s 68 dropout recovery charter schools, no kids earned an industry recognized credential within 9 years!
  • In more than 1 in 5 Ohio charter schools, more than 15% of their teachers teach outside their accredited subjects
  • The median percentage of inexperienced teachers in Ohio charter schools is 34.1%. The median in an Ohio public school building is 6%.

During the time period this report examined, nearly $4 billion in state money was transferred from kids in local public school districts to Ohio’s privately run charter schools. And even if you look at the very best slice of the mud pie that is Ohio’s charter school sector, you get perhaps modest gains – not even 10 percentiles worth though – in a few of the schools.

But that didn’t stop Fordham from excitedly declaring at the beginning of its report that this study demonstrates that “Ohio’s brick-and-mortar charters have proven themselves capable of providing quality options—and it’s time to give families across the state similar opportunities.” Or that “high-quality” charters should be expanded.

One more dirty little secret about “high-quality” charters? Historically, the “high-quality” school buildings in Ohio’s major urban districts actually outperform the “high-quality” charter schools in those districts.

So maybe the answer, especially during this pandemic, is expanding “high-quality” local public school buildings, or investing at least some of the $828 million currently being sent to Ohio’s mostly poor performing charter schools back to local public schools so they have a better shot at being dubbed “high quality”, thereby expanding the number of “high-quality” options for students?

Just a thought…