One Year Later, Still No Answers in Chartergate

Today marks a one-year anniversary related to the most important issue in our state -- how we educate our kids. Some wish we would forget what happened on July 18, 2015. They hoped it would get lost among other political issues.

But those who care about our kids won't let that happen. Nor will the Ohio Democratic Party.

One year ago, Ohio's charter school czar, David Hansen, resigned in disgrace.

Hansen stepped down after allegations surfaced that he broke state law by rigging charter school operator evaluations by leaving out the failing scores of online charter schools, also known as "e-charters." At the time, every major newspaper in Ohio published editorials calling for an independent investigation into whether Hansen broke state law and who else in the administration was involved with scrubbing charter school evaluations.

One year later, there has been no independent investigation, and Hansen has never been held accountable for his misdeeds. Republicans on the state Board of Education blocked a call for an outside investigation. Ohio's inspector general declined to investigate. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien declined to investigate. The state Auditor looked into the matter and found the department was "non-compliant," but there was no action taken against Hansen or other education officials. Even the Ohio Supreme Court got into the act, refusing to do anything about lopsided charter school contracts.

If you're wondering why, it's perhaps instructive to note the following:

Two days before Hansen stepped down, he used the rigged charter school scores in submitting an application to the federal government for a $71 million grant to expand charter schools in Ohio.

Ohio Democrats called on the feds to halt the grant and demanded additional information. In the year since, we've learned much more about Hansen's helping hand to charter schools.

• This spring it was revealed that the feds had provided $30 million in grants to charter schools that had closed -- or NEVER EVEN OPENED.

• Three research institutions looked at e-charter schools' performance and found that their students lost, on average, up to a year of learning, compared to students at regular public schools. In Ohio, e-charter students lost about 144 days of math and 79 days of reading.

• In May the New York Times looked into the state's biggest e-charter -- the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) -- and found that "more students drop out of the Electronic Classroom or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country, according to federal data."

Ohio taxpayers spend about $1 billion every year on this disastrous for-profit charter school system. More than one-fourth of that total goes to e-charters. That means hundreds of millions of dollars are going to these schools, many of which are leaving our kids behind.

The Ohio Democratic Party has called on the state to "freeze the funds" and stop providing state tax dollars to ECOT until there's a full and complete audit of their records. We have also called for an independent investigation into the entire "Chartergate" scandal.

It's been one year, but there's still time to get this right. Ohio leaders, from the Governor to the legislature, should call for an independent examination of his Department of Education or allow appointees on the state school board to support one. O'Brien could use the findings of the state auditor -- the report that found the department was "non-compliant" with state law -- to open his own investigation. The taxpayers of Ohio deserve nothing less.

And if the current leaders refuse to do all they can to help our kids and end the waste, it's long past time we elect a new generation who will.