As John Kasich begins campaigning for President, he’ll be proclaiming a number of impressive policy successes on the trail. In Congress, he was the chief architect of the 1997 balanced budget agreement. As Ohio Governor, he has cut taxes, tripled the state’s surplus, and reduced unemployment.
But during his five years as governor, the state of Ohio remains a joke in the charter school movement. According to research out of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Ohio charter school students can expect to learn 36 days less math and 14 days less reading than traditional public school students in Ohio.
Ohio Charter schools have been lacking transparency. The sponsors that oversee the schools have not been required to disclose how they spend the fees they take from state grants, and the charter operators, many of which are for-profit companies, have not been accountable for results.
These issues came to a head a little over a week ago as David Hansen, the School Choice Director for the Ohio Education Department, was forced to resign after he illegally chose to leave off “F” grades for online and dropout recovery schools in state evaluations.
Hansen is a Republican, and his wife is Beth Hansen, Kasich’s chief of staff who will also play a key role in Kasich’s presidential campaign.
Ohio has long had problems with its charters, but these problems are disproportionately based in the for-profit charter operators of online and dropout recovery schools. That industry is dominated by two companies: White Hat Management, owned by David Brennan, and Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), owned by William Lager. Brennan and Lager have donated more than $6 million to Republicans since 1998, and during that same 17-year period, their companies have received $1.76 billion from Ohio taxpayers. According to Stephen Dyer, an education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, one out of every four charter dollars ever spent by Ohio taxpayers go to Lager or Brennan.
This leaves some wondering why Hansen chose to shield certain charter sponsors from scrutiny, and it also appears that Ohio Republicans are set to impede progress on reforms to Ohio’s failing charters.
The former Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder is now a lobbyist for ECOT, and the current speaker, Cliff Rosenberger, has delayed reform efforts by choosing not to bring these measures to vote.
The question is what Kasich will do.
Dyer, who as a Democratic lawmaker helped shape reforms that passed in 2009, says he is encouraged by the work that has been done to bring people together behind reforms that will strengthen transparency and accountability, but he notes, “The political powers in Columbus still rule the roost.”
Kasich has generally supported reform, but Dyer says he has been absent on the issue for several months. There aren’t many opportunities remaining to pass the legislation this year, but if he wanted, Kasich could call the legislature back and push for passage of the reforms.
Robert Nichols, a spokesman for Governor Kasich, tells InsideSources: “The governor supports higher standards and greater accountability for all schools, whether they be public, community or charter, and he will continue to aggressively ensure that this happens.”