Thoughts about charter schools

Problems have reached a tipping point

“Innocent until proven guilty” is the foundation of our criminal justice system to guarantee due process for the accused. In a recent letter to the editor (Plain Dealer, July 23, 2014), Dr. Darlene Chambers, CEO of Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, requests that the citizens of Ohio refrain from “rushing to judgment” in the Horizon Science Academy scandal.

As widespread criminal allegations involving sexual misconduct, racial and sexual discrimination, attendance rigging and cheating on state tests are levied against school officials by teachers, parents and students at Horizon Science Academy in Dayton, it has indeed proven difficult for the public to presume innocence.

Perhaps the public is questioning why the school officials in question were not immediately placed on administrative leave to ensure the safety and well-being of students in their school during the course of the official investigation.

Perhaps the public’s lack of trust in the investigation has something to do with the Ohio Department of Education seeking to punish, instead of support, the teacher whistleblowers? Perhaps the public is influenced by the fact that the ODE ignored previous teacher complaints, and instead, coached the Horizon Academy officials with specific instructions via email on how to answer preliminary investigative questions? It could also be that the public’s perceptions are tainted by the ongoing FBI criminal investigation into many of the Horizon and Nobel Academies in Ohio.

In fact, multiple charter school scandals across the state are causing Ohio citizens to wake up and ask why one billion taxpayer dollars per year are pouring into a ‘failed choice’ for almost 100,000 of Ohio’s children. Currently, 87 percent of Ohio’s charter school students are attending a charter school with a D or F rating. Recently, Ohio has been branded as the “Wild, Wild West of Charters” and called a charter school “free for all” by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers due to an astounding lack of accountability and transparency by the Ohio Legislature.

In order for the public to trust due process in the investigations of an increasing number of charter school scandals, strict, bi-partisan legislative oversight needs to occur. Two of our strongest state senate leaders are ready to reach across the aisle and put aside partisan politics for Ohio’s children. Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Senate Education Committee Chair, Republican Sen. Peggy Lehner, have each promised to take action towards tighter regulations for Ohio’s charter school system. Schiavoni has stepped up and sponsored two charter school accountability bills, SB 329 and SB 190, each of which are awaiting action in the Senate Education Committee. Lehner responded promptly to the Dayton Horizon Academy allegations with a promise to back a full investigation of the teachers’ criminal allegations, to work with a group for better oversight of charter school laws and to take a look at the overall picture to regulate the for-profit charter school industry in Ohio (Dayton Daily News, July 17, 2014).

The increasing number of charter schools’ violations, financial misdealing’s and health and safety hazards have created a tipping point for Ohio’s parents and taxpayers. There is a citizens’ outcry for legislative oversight from Ohio’s statehouse. Ohio’s for-profit charter school industry, exempted from over 150 state accountability laws, has turned into a problem too costly to ignore; for our taxpayer dollars and the safety and well-being of our children.

“Turning a profit” has turned into an empty promise for our kids. — MAUREEN REEDY, COLUMBUS

MS. REEDY IS CO-FOUNDER, OHIO FRIENDS OF PUBLIC EDUCATION.

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