Buckeye State holding charter school sponsors accountable

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is seeking to close a troubled charter school sponsor (aka authorizer), the Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center, Inc.

This blazes new territory for the nation's charter school program. While there have been many charter school closures over the years, there are no instances where a state has actually stepped in to close a sponsor. In fact, Ohio, Minnesota, and Missouri are the only states that give the state department of education the authority to revoke a charter school sponsor's right to authorize schools. (In most other states, authorizers are brought into being via statute, and they can only be decommissioned by the legislature. Ohio's General Assembly, for example, fired the State Board of Education as a charter school sponsor in 2003.)

According to press accounts the department wants to close Ashe for ???????not properly overseeing the spending of taxpayer money.??????? Specifically, Ashe has sponsored two schools that the state auditor has deemed ???????unauditable.??????? According to an investigation by the state auditor, the sponsor's chief executive officer took payments from a school where his wife ???????? a member of the school's governing board ???????? approved said payments to the sponsor. Considering the sponsor is supposed to represent the interests of the state ???????? including ensuring tax dollars are actually spent on the educational needs of children ???????? this seems an obvious conflict of interest.

Ashe's sponsored schools also have a woeful academic track record. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of Ashe-sponsored schools are rated in the state's worst category, Academic Emergency (???????F???????), compared to 36 percent of charters in Ohio's ???????Big Eight??????? cities. Students in Ashe-sponsored schools make fewer academic gains according to the state's value-added metric, and worse, as the chart below illustrates, Ashe-sponsored schools have not improved over time.

The state is sure to face criticism from many in the charter school community for seeking to revoke the sponsorship authority of the Ashe Culture Center. But, based on publicly available academic and fiscal data, it appears to any fair-minded observer that Ashe deserves to lose its right to sponsor schools. ODE should be supported in its efforts to take on charter sponsors as a way to ensure a basic standard of quality for Ohio's charter schools.

-Terry Ryan

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