Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ohio Charter Schools Receiving Payback for Political Contributions?

Ohio State House Republicans recently proposed sweeping changes to laws regulating charter schools in Ohio. The changes would make Ohio the only state in America to allow for-profit operators to open charter schools without sponsors. The Columbus Dispatch recently published an article explaining the many problems with the proposed changes to charter school regulations.

It has been recently discussed how many charter school operators in Ohio, including David Brennan the founder of White Hat Management, have contributed millions of dollars to Republican candidates in the state of Ohio. Many are viewing the radical relaxation of charter school regulations in the state as political payback to Brennan and other charter school operators.

According the Columbus Dispatch, “a spokesman for Brennan acknowledged yesterday that White Hat sought several provisions to reduce oversight and lift restrictions, but he also refused to take sole credit for the changes. ‘There were more than a thousand amendments (to the budget bill) and there are numerous school-choice interests advocating for school-choice policies,’ said Tom Needles, a lobbyist for White Hat.”

Even other charter school supporters question the changes. Bill Sims, of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the changes threaten to undermine public accountability and could be a setback for school choice. "No other state allows for-profits to be the direct receiving entity of state dollars," he said. "Our concern is when you don't have a nonprofit governing authority acting as mediator. What happens to board meetings? Are they not public anymore? What happens to the Sunshine Law? Are their financial dealings out of reach? There's no accountability. None of it makes any sense."

The issue also came up in the May 2nd Ohio budget hearing before the House Finance Committee. "A number of provisions ... have the unintended consequence of greatly weakening accountability in the charter-school system to the point that it would put the charter-school movement at risk," Dave Cash, president of the Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers, told lawmakers.