Ohio Congressional Delegation Question Department of Education Question Oversight of Ohio Charter Schools | Congressman Tim Ryan
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Ohio Congressional Delegation Question Department of Education Question Oversight of Ohio Charter Schools

October 8, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Amidst reports that certain charter schools in Ohio are misspending taxpayer dollars and falsifying data, members of the Ohio delegation, led by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), called on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to strengthen accountability and transparency for Ohio’s charter schools. In a letter to ED Secretary Arne Duncan, Brown and U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), and Joyce Beatty (D-OH-3), called on him to clarify how ED ensured that falsified data was not used to evaluate an Ohio grant application and to take steps to ensure that the funding awarded to Ohio will be used appropriately.

“There is no denying that Ohio’s charter school oversight system is broken. Parents should not be the only ones worrying if their children are getting the education they deserve – our state government has the responsibility to ensure that Ohio students are not being underserved by their schools. I look forward to seeing the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to ensure these funds are used to improve education for Ohio children,” said Ryan.

“Parents and taxpayers deserve to know that our classrooms are providing students with a quality education,” Brown said. “The fraud we’ve seen from some charter schools and state officials engage is unacceptable. The Department of Education must strengthen oversight and ensure that this federal funding is used to benefit charter school operators that are working hard to make sure all children who attend receive the education they deserve.”

“Ohio’s education system benefits immensely from this level of federal support. However, directing federal funds to the state’s troubled charter school system raises important questions and more than a few eyebrows as it appears to lack proper oversight or accountability,” said Kaptur. “With a few important exceptions such as Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, Ohio’s charter system overall has a record of misusing funds and abusing the public’s trust. It is my fervent hope that the U.S. Department of Education will reevaluate the distribution of federal support to Ohio schools to ensure that they are spent responsibly and appropriately on properly educating Ohio’s school children.”

“A lack of transparency and meaningful oversight has failed many of our state’s charter school students … that cannot continue,” said Fudge. “As a member of the House Education & Workforce Committee, and Ranking Member of the Early Childhood Elementary & Secondary Education Subcommittee, mending our state’s charter school system is one of my top priorities.  We must ensure Ohio’s children get a quality education and ultimately benefit from these funds.”

“High-quality schools are central to building and sustaining our communities, including charter schools. I expect the U.S. Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Education will be accountable with these federal funds so that Ohio’s students receive the education that they deserve,” said Beatty.

In their letter, the delegation urged ED to increase oversight of charter schools and to restrict these funds from being used to finance a takeover of Ohio public school districts. The members also praised Ohio’s several high-quality charter schools and urged ED to ensure that grants are only awarded to charter school operators with proven records of success.

In July, David Hansen, the executive director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Quality School Choice and the Office of Community Schools, resigned after admitting to deliberately leaving out failing grades of online charter schools. Despite these allegations, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) awarded the Ohio Department of Education a $71 million dollar grant last week to expand charter schools in Ohio.

The full letter is below:  

October 7, 2015 

The Honorable Arne Duncan
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

Last week, the Ohio Department of Education was awarded a $71 million dollar grant as part of the United States Department of Education’s (USDOE) Charter Schools Program. As you know, the Ohio charter school sector has been beset by so many problems, especially in the for-profit and online sector, that charter school advocates have referred to Ohio as the “Wild, Wild West” of charter schools.[1] 

This atmosphere of lax regulation has now cast a pall over this grant award. In July 2015, the executive director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Quality School Choice and the Office of Community Schools, David Hansen, resigned after acknowledging that he manipulated charter school data.  Mr. Hansen prepared Ohio’s grant application, and there have been allegations that Ohio’s grant application was based on false or misleading assertions by the Ohio Department of Education. 

Following the grant award, Ohio’s Auditor of State Dave Yost noted that he was “shocked” that Ohio received the grant the given the state’s poor track record at ensuring that charters do not misspend tax dollars.[2]  According to a review by the Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio charter schools misspend public money almost four times as often than any other type of public sector agency.[3]  We accordingly urge you to take steps to ensure that this funding is spent appropriately and that it is used to help improve the poor performance of many charter school operators in the state. 

In order to better understand that process by which this grant was awarded we would appreciate a response to the below questions by November 30, 2015.

1)      Was the USDOE aware of Mr. Hansen’s manipulation of Ohio charter school data during the grant review process? What steps were taken to independently verify that this data was not part of the review process?

2)      Despite long standing concerns regarding charter school performance and accountability in Ohio, the USDOE’s Technical Review Form for this grant states that, “Ohio has established high and exacting accountability expectations of authorizers (including evaluation against standards) and, inferentially, schools.” What is the basis for this statement? What steps did the Department of Education take to independently verify assertions made in Ohio’s application for this grant program?

3)      How many of the peer reviewers who reviewed this application came from charter school advocacy organizations? What are the backgrounds of the reviewers?

4)      How are often are these special conditions attached to charter school grant award? Were special conditions attached to any other awardees this year? How do the conditions attached to this award compare to those attached to other grant awards?

5)      Ohio’s efforts to increase accountability in the charter school sector have long been stalled in the state legislature. Is the USDOE directing that grant funds be used to improve oversight of Ohio’s charter schools?

6)      According to recent reports, Ohio education officials filled out the grant application intending to direct money to charter school startups in “academically distressed areas.” Only Youngstown and Lorain currently fit this description. Is the Department of Education prepared to take any steps to ensure that these funds are not used to finance a state takeover of these school districts?

In Ohio and across the nation there are concerns about how some charter schools are spending taxpayer dollars and educating students. As you work to exercise oversight over the Charter Schools Program, we urge you to strengthen charter school accountability and transparency in order help prevent fraud and abuse and to ensure that all children who attend a charter school receive the education they deserve. 

Finally, there are a number of high-quality charter schools in Ohio. These schools, like Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland and KIPP in Columbus, do an excellent job of educating students and should be commended for their efforts. We urge you to place restrictions on this grant funding to ensure that funds: 1) are only provided to charter school operators with a proven record of high performance and 2) are not used to finance a takeover of Ohio public school districts. 

We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.