Could Charter School Scandal Weaken The Kasich Campaign?

Ohio Governor John Kasich got some good news, as he made the cut for the Fox News debate. He's also been rising in the polls. But a charter school scandal in Ohio could derail the Kasich 2016 Campaign.

During the 2014 election, three of Kasich's top donors were charter school operator David Brennan and his wife, Ann, and Brennan's company CEO, all of whom donated thousands of dollars to the Ohio Governor's re-election, enabling him to swamp his Democratic rival in fundraising, and later, votes.

Kasich's opponent, Ed FitzGerald, claimed that the Republican had cut money from public schools to give to charter schools which were allegedly performing poorly. His ads even claimed that White Hat Management, another charter school operation, donated thousands of dollars to Kasich in 2010, and got to write the charter school law. But Kasich easily bested his opponent in a good year for Republicans across the country, and Ohio.

After his reelection, Kasich vowed to clean up charter schools, the targets of investigations for a series of corruption scandals and poor academic performance, even as he announced his support for such education institutions.

In addition, Kasich claimed he would regulate charter schools, independently run schools with taxpayer money, having a site where viewers could compare the performance of charter schools and public schools.

Despite the concerns over the scandals and academic struggles, Kasich pushed to reward the charter schools with the prospect increased funding, to upgrade their facilities, with increases in the number of charter schools and their budgets, heading well above a billion dollars, in 2015.

A Washington Post report reveals
that Kasich slashed public school funding by half a billion dollars, boosting state spending on charter schools, despite the quality concerns. In fact, the Ohio now spends more per charter school pupil than it does for public school student, while costs have been passed on to local government just to keep their schools open.

Fears about the quality of charter schools in Ohio even began to unnerve even charter school advocates. Their concerns were evidently warranted.

David Hansen, the agency's director of school choice, resigned last month after admitting he left off poor grades for online and dropout-recovery schools on evaluations of their charter-school sponsors. His wife, Beth Hansen, is Gov. John Kasich's former chief of staff and current campaign manager for his 2016 presidential run.

Members of the State Board of Education have demanded an independent investigation of the Department of Education, something the State Auditor and the head of the board have so far resisted, according to that Columbus Dispatch story. They have also targeted Kasich's State School Superintendent pick.

As a result, Kasich has chosen to not to mention charter schools very much on the campaign trail, an odd choice given their importance to his Ohio legacy. In addition to Ohio, charter school fraud seems pretty rampant as well. In Philadelphia alone, a quarter of all charter schools were under investigation for corruption.

Looking over Kasich's website, you won't find any mention of charter schools either, or his education policies (though high resolution photos and a campaign store are on it). But opponents in his party and Democratic rivals are sure to pounce on this issue, should Kasich win the nomination or secure a spot on the ticket as a vice presidential candidate.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at